The end of the swipe-and-sign era is right around the corner, and merchants such as bars and restaurants could face major risk as of October if they haven't migrated their point of sale systems to accept EMV.

Virtually none of the point of sale devices currently in use at restaurants and bars have the capacity to handle chip technology. That’s an issue because not only can the inability to handle the new technology expose bar and restaurant owners to liability for fraudulent purchases, it can undermine their relationship with their customers, who have their own concerns about fraud and either already have received or soon will receive chip-enabled cards.

Why the switch? Massive, high-profile hacking incidents like those that occurred at Target, Home Depot and other retailers are part of the story — EMV will make it harder for fraudsters to steal credit card data. But the main reason behind the shift is the high incidence of credit card fraud in the US. Half of all credit card fraud happens in the US, even though Americans account for only a quarter of total credit card transactions. In Europe, chip technology has been in place for years.

So what will happen when the liability shift occurs in October? Restaurants and bars that don’t have a system in place to handle smart cards may be on the hook for fraudulent purchases if they continue to use swipe-and-sign. Say a customer comes into a sports bar and orders several pitchers of beer, numerous rounds of drinks and baskets of wings, running up a $300 tab. If the bartender doesn’t have a smart card reader, processes the card using swipe-and-sign and the transaction is later rejected as fraudulent, the bar has to eat the cost.

Owners and managers who are aware of these issues are looking at technology options, but the typical solution runs into the high hundreds to thousands per unit, which is a daunting price tag for small businesses in a highly competitive industry. But this challenge will prove to be an opportunity in disguise for bars and restaurants that think beyond processing technology and look for ways to turn a cost center into a profit center.

There are affordable, tablet-based solutions on the market (costs in the low hundreds) that deliver EMV processing capabilities and multiple additional functions. With the right solution, bars and restaurants can not only handle EMV processing, they can use multifunctional tablets to host trivia challenges and other games, enable remote ordering and digital server call buttons and much more.

The end of swipe-and-sign is at hand. The only question for bar and restaurant owners is how to manage the transition. Before signing up for an expensive, single-purpose chip reading solution, it makes sense to explore all the possibilities. With a multipurpose solution that can handle chip card processing while also making the total customer experience more engaging, bar and restaurant owners can say goodbye to swipe-and-sign — and hello to higher profits.     

LaShawn James is the Director of Dining Experience for Buzztime, a bar and restaurant services platform.