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Pay at the Table Best Practices: A Complete Guide for Restaurants

Pay at the Table Best Practices: A Complete Guide for Restaurants

Compared to other countries, the US may have a little catching up to do when it comes to how we pay at restaurants. Thankfully pay at the table is becoming more widespread, to the benefit of restaurants, their staff and guests everywhere. 

In a recent industry report, the National Restaurant Association found that the restaurant industry’s growth shows no signs of slowing. In fact, the industry is expected to hit a staggering $997 billion in sales this year. Combined with the fact that more employees are needed in the industry, it’s more obvious than ever that to maintain success, restaurants need to come up with ways to become more efficient and keep staff and guests happy—all while saving on costs. 

One way to do this is to improve the payment process. So what does that process currently look like in many US restaurants? 

Typically, a server will drop the bill off at a table, then leave. Customers put their credit or debit cards on the table. The server returns, then collects the cards and takes them away from the table to a fixed POS terminal to swipe the card (or cards) and complete the transaction. Once the transaction is complete, the tip is calculated and the server comes back once again to have customers sign the bill. 

Pretty convoluted, right? In contrast, pay at the table is a solution that streamlines the payment process. Nowadays, guests and employees alike value convenience and simplicity, and that can be achieved with pay at the table. 

In this guide to pay at the table, we’ll cover the following: 

What is pay at the table?

With pay at the table, guests settle their checks using handheld payment terminals brought over by servers. They can also use QR codes to pay directly at the table. 

Instead of servers collecting guests’ cards and swiping them at stationary POS terminals, all transactions are processed through a single handheld device at the table.

Pay at the table eliminates the constant back-and-forth between a fixed terminal and a table, making the checkout experience more efficient and enjoyable for all. 


How does pay at the table work?

During the pandemic, restaurants pivoted to features to maintain safety measures. Restaurants scrambled to minimize high-touch areas and points of contact. This led to widespread usage of pay at the table technology. 

Handheld POS terminals are the most common pay at the table method, and QR codes are also commonly used. Let’s break them down.  

Pay at the table via POS terminals

With a handheld device, guests can swipe, tap or insert their cards and leave a tip all in a few clicks. Servers can check out entire tables using one handheld device, and print receipts for guests as well. 

Bill-splitting is also made easier with these terminals. Instead of having to keep track of several cards (often while waiting in line to complete a transaction), servers can simply input different amounts based on the checks and number of guests. 

Pay at the table via QR code

QR codes have surged in use over the past few years. 

Diners can scan QR codes, which direct them to a secure site where they can view the menu, order and pay all at once. Servers don’t have to worry about closing transactions at the end of the meal, allowing them to focus on other areas of the dining experience, such as guest satisfaction. 

Although this process may not work for every restaurant, it’s highly convenient. Plus, you can personalize QR codes. Customers can still use a physical menu to order, but then pay online with a QR code that’s printed on their bill. This way there’s fewer touchpoints, but they still get a classic dining experience—with a simplified checkout process. 


Requirements for pay at the table

You likely have a POS system already, but is it pay-at-the-table compatible? It’s worth considering—it can simplify workflows and help drive profits, all while reducing waste and allowing you to save time and money. 

Here’s what you’ll need to implement pay at the table at your restaurant:

1. A POS and payment processor that offers pay-at-the-table capabilities

This one is a must: the POS system you use must provide handheld terminals. These devices allow servers to process transactions, settle tabs and accept tips tableside.

A POS platform with built-in payment capabilities–otherwise known as integrated payments—is the best choice. Your POS and payment needs are handled under one roof. 

Did you know? Lightspeed POS and Payments work together to create one unified system for running your business, automating transactions and providing you with valuable business insights.

2. A stable internet or Bluetooth connection

In order to use wireless payment terminals properly, your restaurant must have a strong internet connection. Anything patchy or slow will make it difficult for transactions to process efficiently. Although some POS systems have offline capabilities, it’s best not to solely rely on that. 

Keep in mind that WiFi is typically a better option for large businesses. It’s more reliable and allows for better access across larger areas than Bluetooth, which operates at a limited distance. 

3. Multiple (reliable) payment terminals

You can use standalone bluetooth-based devices or portable wireless terminals. Determine how many you need based on the size of your restaurant and the number of servers on the floor. For example, if on average there are four servers working a shift, you will need at least two. But the larger your operation (for example, if your restaurant has multiple floors and dozens of servers) you’ll need many more. 

4. Tipping functionality

Use payment terminals with built-in tipping functionality. It’s simpler for servers to collect tips this way, rather than being limited to cash or having customers sign for a tip. 

5. Customer support is key

As with any new technology, there can be growing pains. Go with a provider who you trust to provide you top support, when you need it. To seamlessly adopt pay-at-the-table tech, you and your employees should be able to troubleshoot any issues and have your questions answered with ease.

6. Train and explain

Speaking of support, it’s important to train your employees thoroughly on the ins and outs of the new system you’re implementing. That way, they can explain to inquiring customers why the business shifted to pay-at-the-table technology—security being the number one answer. 

Did you know? Lightspeed POS and Payments comes with up to 24/7 support, onboarding assistance from our restaurant experts, and an account manager to help grow your business.


Pros of pay at the table

Let’s get into all the ways your restaurant can benefit from pay at the table. 

1. Turn tables faster

The faster you turn tables, the more customers you can serve, and the more revenue you can bring in. With the old method, it takes longer for customers to pay and for servers to close tables because of all the back-and-forth between one table and a fixed payment terminal. With pay at the table, there are no unnecessary steps and lengthy wait times. Guests can leave satisfied, and servers are freed up to focus on other tables and improve service. 

2. It’s more secure

Have you heard of card skimming? Hopefully you’ve never encountered it in your restaurant. It’s a method of fraud where the person completing a transaction uses a skimming device to capture credit card information and PINs when a card is swiped. It’s more common at restaurants without pay at the table, where employees directly handle customer cards. Pay at the table is one way to ensure this won’t happen.

Many customers aren’t comfortable with servers leaving the table in possession of their credit card. But with pay at the table, customers don’t have to deal with their cards leaving their sight, and their payment information is no longer at risk.

3. Save on costs  

Since pay at the table allows your employees to operate more efficiently, you can save money on labor costs. Staff can quickly cash out guests tableside and focus on important matters like interacting with guests (one of the most important aspects of dining), promoting different menu items, and completing all the little service tasks in between. 

Using pay at the table, servers can attend to more customers than they would otherwise, meaning your restaurant can operate with fewer employees on the floor, saving you money. This is a huge boon for businesses of all sizes—and the larger your business is (if you have multiple locations, for example) the greater the cost savings.

4. Higher tips

Customers have much more flexibility when it comes to tipping with tableside payments. This is great for both diners and staff. 

They’re likely to tip more because the screen provides them with the option, rather than them having to calculate a tip themselves and write it down on their bill. And since pay at the table speeds up service, there will be more tables, meaning servers will collect a greater number of tips. 

5. Bookkeeping is simplified

As we mentioned earlier, an integrated payment system is your best bet for pay at the table. Your payment terminals speak to your POS, providing you with the payments and customer data you need for accounting

This saves you time that you’d normally spend going over records and manually tracking expenses. 

6. It gives customers payment options

Customers aren’t restricted to credit cards with pay at the table. You can offer a variety of payment methods, including MAG swiping, insert, contactless payments and digital wallets. Not only does this benefit your customers, but your restaurant can stay competitive. There are all sorts of payment methods these days, and to keep up with the industry, your restaurant should offer as many as possible. Lightspeed Payments, for example, offers multiple payment methods including credit, debit, mobile and contactless. 

7. Fewer chargebacks 

Pay at the table technology enables better security. As a result, diners are less likely to be subjected to credit card fraud, which is a common reason for chargebacks. Your restaurant will save money on the fees associated with chargebacks as a result of using secure tableside payments. 

8. Better customer service

We’ve mentioned customer service a few times by now, but we really want to hammer this home: a better checkout process means a better dining experience. Your servers will be freed up to spend more time attending to customers’ needs, streamlining their workflows and giving them more face time with customers. They’ll save time closing tables and be able to focus on providing top-notch customer service to every guest. Plus, there will be fewer transaction errors during checkout. 


Cons of pay at the table

While there aren’t nearly as many drawbacks as there are advantages with pay at the table, we’ll let you know of a couple standouts.

1. Diners may be used to the “old way” of doing things

Despite the rise of pay-at-the-table technology, many restaurants still use the old checkout process. Customers may not be used to the change, maybe feeling as though they are being pressured to pay earlier than they normally would. Of course, this is not out of your control—train your employees on the best way to approach customers. Servers can trust their instincts when it comes to payment, as well. Sometimes it’s obvious when customers want to take their time eating and vice versa.

Essentially, you have to factor in how to implement tableside payments without throwing your customers off. Train servers on the ins and outs of the new payment process, including providing a breakdown of the steps to take on-screen as well as the variety of payment methods. This will help reluctant customers become accustomed to this improved way of paying.

2. Cost considerations associated with pay at the table

Pay at the table comes with a lot of benefits, but it is definitely an investment. By investing in an integrated, cloud-based POS and payments system, you can save money in the long run and drive profitability. 

It’s worth it to stay up-to-date with current technology. Fewer and fewer people are using cash at restaurants, and an integrated payment processor can provide you with the tools you need to grow—that includes the adoption of new and upcoming payment methods, analytics, and more. 

If your current POS system doesn’t allow for pay at table, you’ll have to switch to one that does. Shop around to see which provider is the best fit for your business. And remember, you can negotiate rates. Lightspeed Payments offers competitive rates that can be negotiated for your business needs. 

All in all, the information you’ll receive and the ability to deliver the best possible experience to your guests make pay at the table an investment that will come with plenty of returns.


How Lightspeed delivers on pay at the table

Lightspeed POS and Payments gives restaurants the flexibility to take payments the way they want. With our Pay at Table feature, the checkout process is easier than ever, eliminating the constant back and forth between POS and tables. Instead, servers can move seamlessly from table to table to close transactions with one handheld terminal—and easily split payments among groups. 

With integrated payments and POS, you get access to meaningful business insights that can empower you to make better business decisions. 

Lightspeed Payments automates transactions, eliminating the need for manual entry. Your employees will save time and you’ll save money. 

Terrace Bay Hotel and Freshwater Tavern wanted to use a system that helped them meet the demands of their busiest season, so they turned to Lightspeed in 2021. With Lightspeed’s Pay at Table feature, their staff can bring iPads right to the table to take orders and close bills. This feature enables them to turn more tables while continuing to deliver exceptional customer service, allowing them to exceed guest demands.


Improve service with pay at the table

Ultimately, the most important part of running a successful restaurant is providing an excellent experience to your guests every time. 

The checkout process is part of that experience. Pay at the table simplifies your operations so you can run your restaurant efficiently. 

There’s truly no better time to adopt pay at the table. As the industry booms, 47% of restaurant owners say they expect competition to be more intense this year than in 2022. 

Stay ahead of the competition with Lightspeed’s POS and Payments solution. It’s built for restaurants with growth on the horizon. If you’re interested in how Lightspeed can help your business, talk to one of our restaurant experts today.

Editor’s note: Nothing in this blog post should be construed as advice of any kind. Any legal, financial or tax-related content is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for obtaining advice from a qualified legal or accounting professional. Where available, we’ve included primary sources. While we work hard to publish accurate content, we cannot be held responsible for any actions or omissions based on that content. Lightspeed does not undertake to complete further verifications or keep this blog post updated over time.

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