Mobile payment technology at restaurants is gaining favor with wait staff, who find shedding paper leads to quicker orders, faster service and higher gratuities.

"The orders fly into the kitchen much faster, and it's much easier for the staff to take transactions and to describe orders," says Rusty Winkstern, owner of the El Monumento restaurant in Georgetown, Texas, which serves about 500,000 people each year.

The restaurant recently deployed new payments technology from NCR called Aloha Mobile, part of a rapid expansion of mobile payments within the restaurant industry.

Aloha Mobile is an extension of NCR's Aloha Tablet point of sale system—which brings most of the tablet software to mobile devices such as NCR's Orderman, with availability planned for Apple devices by the end of the year. El Monumento uses Aloha Tablet to decentralize how payments are received within the restaurant, which Winkstern says cuts about eight minutes off of each transaction.

By using the mobile app, wait staff can take orders and process customers' checks while the customers are seated in the restaurant, Winkstern says. Before, staff had to write payment amounts and wait in line behind other staff at POS terminals to enter transactions. "We would have problems processing payment and orders, especially during peak times," Winkstern says.

There's also a customer relationship management element. The restaurant is able to save preferences for special offers and other marketing.

"We can build a database for customers, if they have requests, or if it's their birthday, etc.," Winkstern says. Daily updates and changes to the menu are also programmed into the app on a daily basis, allowing staff to view and communicate new menu items or special offers immediately, he says. "We couldn't do that with paper."

The competition in mobile payments is heating up, with companies such as NCR, Tabbedout, and MyCheck all vying to bring mobile acceptance to the restaurant industry.

"There's a rich opportunity for retailers and restaurateurs to provide better service," says Denee Carrington, an analyst at Forrester Research, adding the technology has been in use in Canada and Europe more so than in the U.S.

There are also efficiencies that can be gained since the wait staff is not needed for all interaction with consumers.

"The patrons can issue orders themselves while at the restaurants. If they want another glass of wine or an appetizer, they can reorder on the app and the wait staff is alerted," Carrington says. "That can help move the process faster, enable customers to pay faster and turn over the tables faster."

At Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas, consumers use a mobile device to open a tab, track its progress, and then pay checks and tips by using card info that's stored in the app. This card information is sent to the restaurant's point of sale system.

"We don't have people tied up waiting for checks while they want to get out the door," says Marius Donnelly, the owner of Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas, which has deployed Tabbedout's payments tech.

For staff, the app is particularly useful for managing payments for spikes in customer volume—such as sporting events or St. Patrick's Day. Instead of waiting for a large crowd of customers to pay their checks—consumers can pay remotely via mobile app—which reduces frustration and increases tips  (there's also tip calculator in Tabbedout's app). Customers also stay longer during high volume events, Donnelly says.

"When people leave after  a big game, they want to ring up their tab right away. It's like standing at the door waiting for the valet get a car for your," Donnelly says.

There is some buy-in required for the wait staff, Donnelly says, since they have to trust that the lack of a paper trail and a decrease in contact with patrons doesn't hurt gratuities, Donnelly says.

"The staff can always go back and view the [POS] machines to see what the tips are," Donnelly says, adding the pub has found gratuities have increased because the turnaround is faster and the service is more efficient. "We found that after two or three weeks, the staff was checking less to track tips, and reporting that tips were increased."

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