By MARIAH SMITH
There is just no escaping technology these days. As I entered a new, swanky restaurant on one of my travels, I saw the host tapping away on his iPad. He explained there would be a 15-minute wait and asked for my cell phone number. This particular restaurant has joined a growing number of businesses replacing their pager systems with text messaging.
I love technology as much as the next person, but I may have to buy a disposable cell phone because there is no way I am giving out my phone number that easily. Fortunately for me, I was with friends who were really hungry, and one of them had no worries about sharing her number.
The premise behind the text messaging-based waiting list makes good business sense. It’s more cost-effective for the restaurant and presumably more convenient for the customer. There is a limit to how far the pagers can travel, usually around 200 feet. With the text-based system, patrons just need to be close to their phones. Theoretically, the system is also good for surrounding businesses, as customers can shop while they wait.
The leader in developing this software is a company called Diner Connection. A basic plan costs around $99 a month and will send out 1,200 text messages to patrons. The other benefit of this software is that the restaurant can use the cell phone number to text customers with specials, coupons and other offers. Of course, party poopers like me can opt out at any time from the text messages.
Another technology taking restaurants by storm is the free mobile app Tabbedout, which allows the customer to keep track of the bill at a particular restaurant and then pay with a debit or credit card.
Restaurants must set up the menu and pricing on the front end. Customers can then open the app, select the restaurant and order. The app calculates the bill, including the tip, and allows the user to pay at the table. No more wondering where your credit card just went or sharing pens with the table next to you. It’s all done with a tap, tap, tap of your Smartphone. Unfortunately, no restaurants in Mississippi are using this software just yet. The closest spot is Montgomery, Ala.
If you are not in the restaurant business or you doubt your patrons’ willingness to use a Smartphone app to pay for their meals, consider a technology like Square, which gives customers the ability to pay at the table. Square is a small device that fits onto the top of a Smartphone or iPad. The card can be swiped at the table in front of the guest, who can then sign for it. PayAnywhere is similar to Square. These services require a percentage of the sale and should be evaluated carefully before use.
Tabletop technology is designed with the patron in mind. It also helps cut down on identity theft and credit card theft because the cards never leave the customer’s sight. Providing a smooth, seamless experience makes for happy customers.