Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is this progress?

Is this progress? You get to vote with your comments.

Three of my friends ate at Legal Seafoods in the Prudential Center last night. At the conclusion of dinner, the server came over and, with great enthusiasm, told them that their restaurant was the first in Boston to have a new feature. (I gather from this article that it has been in use elsewhere.) It was a handheld device, running off a wi-fi system, that permitted the customers to pay their check at the table with their credit cards. (It is roughly equivalent to the one you use at a grocery store checkout.)

Yes, you can still split the bill among two or three credit cards, but you need to calculate the tip in advance from the paper bill so that you enter the right amount into the keyboard for each person.

One of my friends was very excited about this approach. Another could not see why it provided any advantage from the customer's point of view. Her view was reinforced when she mistyped a number, tried to clear and reset it, and received a message saying she should wait for the server.

This approach has been described as a way to minimize credit card fraud because you never hand off your card and have it leave your sight. It also has been described as a way to boost server productivity and speed up table turnover.

What's your take? Good, bad, indifferent? I'll send along your comments to Roger Berkowitz... or maybe he reads this blog.

By the way, this makes me wonder: Should we have a grocery-store type device for collecting co-pays at our clinics? Today, the desk attendant has to complete your transaction for you.


Anonymous said...

People with the proper equipment, I understand, can sit in a car outside places with wifi and capture info. This may apply to how restaurants or stores process your card, too. I personally would not be amused to be expected to screw around with a computer to pay my bill.

EB said...

Legal Seafood has it right. This new technology is process improvement at work! It will make servers more efficient and also turn tables around faster. (This device is probably a visual cue that reminds people "its time to pay and leave now!") More business for the restaurant, and happier consumers (for those that embrace the technology and can use it).

Even if 50% of the customers need server assistance, that still means that the server is twice as productive as before when he/she was fetcthing checks for EVERYONE.

This is the kind of thinking that hospitals need to embrace - such as implementing bedside registration in the ED, greeter kiosks with automatic sign in. Leveraging technology is an efficient way of improving effectiveness in a system, subject to barriers related to: cost, functionality and adoption rate.

Jay Levitt said...

My big concern would be security. A little Googling leaves me uneasy: lots of claims of "meets security requirements" with very few details. lists three devices: an Ingenico 7780, which uses Bluetooth (very much NOT secure), a Verifone Vx670 which uses WPA (used to be secure but isn't anymore), and an Exadigm XD 2000 that says it uses 256-bit SSL (sounds OK).

I'd want to know more before broadcasting my credit card to the entire vicinity of the restaurant.

Anonymous said...

I always think of an EZpass system. With a user shutdown for privacy if desired.

The Imp ;-) said...


Security issues notwithstanding, I would find this intrusive.

Merchant911 said...

In case you've forgotten, it was just under a year ago that the now infamous TJX security breach was announced. What is now believed to be almost 100Million credit card accounts were either compromised or at risk - the largest heist in history.

It was accomplished via a wireless connection. If the restaurant would not let me pay any other way, they might change their tune when they realize that I'm going to pay MY way or leave without paying, No credit card of mine will EVER go through a wireless, handheld device.

I'm sure some of them are safe but since I don't know which ones, I'll avoid them all together.

Tom Mahoney

Matt said...

I was in Northern Ireland for a while, and these things were everywhere. My understanding is that they are common in England and Ireland, too.

Have you been in an Apple Store lately? At the one here, there are no checkout lines. You have to find an employee with one of these gadgets to buy something. By the way, the system runs on Windows Mobile.

As for using it, I'm ambivalent, because if my cc number is stolen, I'm not responsible for more than $50.

Nikhil said...

The discussion about security is certainly valid. For me, though the real issue is one of incremental erosion of human contact. You could conceivably place your order too using a touch screen and, in that case, if you needed help you could even speak to a human being (perhaps in an outsourced call center in Bangalore!). Reminded me of this fascinating impression of a legendary author ruing this kind of loss at TED Talk.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the other posters who don't like the idea of credit cards going through a wireless device. I am even careful not to give my credit card number over a wireless phone, because those signals are very easily intercepted as well! The ONE time I entered my credit card number on my laptop on a wireless network, I had fraudulent charges within days. (I can't PROVE cause-and-effect, but I hadn't used it anywhere else in a while.)
As for the supermarket-type devices in the clinics for co-pays, I would have no problem with that as long as they're hard-wired and not Wi-Fi. (Still not 100% secure, but at least no one can sit in the waiting room collecting all the credit card numbers with a receiver.)
As for Legal's, if they're so worried about the time the servers spend "fetching" checks for the customers impeding their table turnover, they could take a page from such paragons of table turnover as IHOP where the customers pay at the door on their way out. . .

Zagreus Ammon said...

Does it make anyone feel better to think that the older wired devices you run your credit card through at your local grocery store could run on as little as 8-bit encryption?

My credit card holds me responsible for exactly $0 if my number is stolen or misused. Their thoroughness on two occasions explains my loyalty after 11 years.

On a different topic, how would you feel about a running tab of prices and estimated insurance payments? Now that's what I'd call transparency.

Jay Levitt said...

Great point about human contact. Didn't McDonald's outsource their drive-throughs to call centers a while back? (I'm a vegetarian so I never go anymore.)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good idea, however the software does not sound so user friendly. Collecting Co-pays wouldn't work as not many people know what there co-payment is. Also, perhaps we can add a no-show surcharge as it is really the no-shows that cost the hospital the most money.

John said...

How long before the information chip is implanted in our brain or some other part of our body? Why do we need a credit card?

pesha said...

Yuck. If you live in Boston, the mere mention of Legal can make your mouth water for the clam chowder, or, in my case, their rolls. Where do they get them? But this buries the place as a fine dining experience for me, reminding me of returning a rental car.

Jim M said...

When it comes to transactions I’m in favor of removing humans from the equation as much as possible.

I find it funny that a lot of people don’t like having their credit card numbers sent over encrypted WiFi but they’ll think nothing of handing the card to the waiter and letting him walk off with it for a few minutes.

Barbara said...

I was one of the friends who were at Legals the other night. We were given the device (aka evil machine) at the end of dinner after a ten minute talk by our waitress explaining how simple it was to work. Then, she walked away, leaving us to deal with the hateful thing by ourselves.

Since we were trying to split our bill into three parts, it was a little tricky. "It" finally told us that we had to get our waitress again. She came back and pressed all sorts of numbers and letters and finally got the thing to work - more or less. We did split the bill, but only one of us paid the tip!

I don't think these devices are a good choice for dinner. When you go out to someplace nice, it is in part because you'd really like to be served. Why don't the waiters and waitresses use the devices? That way, restaurant would have all the advantages the patrons can sit back and relax!

Ian M said...

This is a case of "progress" equalling "profit." There is no need for this kind of innovation, and I don't seem to remember the public outcry over the inconvenience of past payment methods.
Everyone but the customer benefits: The restaurant with it's increased productivity, and the manufacturer of these devices will both, potentially see increased profits. But what additional service are they providing the customer with, if any?
Why should I need to act as cashier at the end of my meal?

Anonymous said...

To Jim M---I "think nothing" of giving my credit card to the waiter and letting him walk off with it because he and his employer have a lot to lose if he steals my number (he will lose his job, the restaurant will get bad PR a la TJ Maxx) BUT the anonymous person sitting in the waiting room with the receiver would be much more difficult to track down and be held accountable.
Paul, please let us know when you plan to implement the wireless card readers at the hospital, so I will bring my co-pay in cash. . .
---anonymous 7:10

Paul Levy said...

No, I wasn't thinking of wireless here. Perhaps a kiosk for self-registration, or something like that, but I'm not even sure that our patients would like it.

Vicky said...

I don't trust the argument that technology always makes workers more efficient. I don't think that the demands of servers are any greater now than they were when I was a server many moons ago. In fact the demands are often less now because most restaurants have a team of people that take care of a table.
"Back in the day", we were expected to do it ALL, and I did. Besides keeping the water glasses filled, taking orders, checking in a couple of times to see if all was well, getting back in good time for desert orders, there was also a smile and some pleasant conversation.
I don't think this technology will make people more efficient. It will however make dining out even more impersonal.

Vicky said...

P.S. Sorry- I got so tied up with the idea of restaurants that I forgot to comment on the idea of a check in kiosk at hospitals.
Oddly enough, I like the idea. Why? Because it would make me feel less nervous and irritable. A patient is often on edge when going into the hospital and wait times exacerbate this.
A self-check in system might alleviate some of the helplessness and irritability that patients feel.
It would for me. said...

They've been doing this in europe for quite a while.

for those who worry about security, think about how in many restaurants the card is often lying around in plain sight of various workers, and perhaps patrons while it is shuffling back and forth to be processed.

Jay Levitt said...

@John: I got my chip already. Now, when I get lost, the shelter knows I've had my rabies shot.

(Hey, that started out as a joke, but.. what if we adopt RFID for credit card purchases, and then the dogs find out where PetSmart is? And what if it's next to Home Depot? Talk about providing them the tools..)

@jwg and Jim M: I think little of waiter 1 bringing my credit card in view of waiter 2 and cook 1 for 15 seconds to do a transaction at the cashwrap. Unless one of the three has been trained in "photography spy memory" techniques, we're cool. At worst, that's one "get" per any transaction, requiring 1-4 people, some talent, and someplace where nobody notices them. That's still petty theft.

If you stick it on the wireless net, you're now exposing it to thousands or tens of thousands of people, who could be anywhere within a given radius - parked in their cars, in their houses next to the restaurant, in the attached movie theatre, anywhere. They just need a storage device that'll hook up to a radio, and they can record the goodies for later. It's not that hard, and it's exactly what lost TJX that hundred million.

If, between the time the waiter took my card and returned it to me, he had found a way to provide my credit card number, with total anonymity, to anyone in the restaurant or passing by... I'd get a lot more upset about the waiter straw-man.

But, since Paul says he's not considering wireless at all: Wellesley Newton has a self-survey station, and I seem to remember they were moving toward a self-checkin last I was there. The self-survey didn't impress me at all; I think it just asked me "choose 1-5" type questions on, well, the type of questions you ask "choose 1-5" questions on. Nothing that felt like it'd be meaningful, to the extent that the only clear indication of a problem would be everyone giving out "1"s, and if you had that, you don't need the survey to learn it.

An automated survey, unless an incredible amount of thought, isn't going to tell you anything you didn't already know - and vice versa. I knew my mortgage company had no clue how to succeed with any projects they were doing, and when I saw the survey asking me to specify my age, "in years", I knew I was right.

(When I'm not ranting about security design, I rant on the side (pro bono) for some community survey-design troupes. We rant together every First Night.)

Dr. Val said...

I like the concept - it's a convenience for diners as much as it is for servers. You don't have to find your server when you'd like to pay, and you don't have all the usual confusion and bickering about splitting the check. If this device is 1) secure 2) easy to use and 3) designed in an elegant, unobtrusive way - I'd be all for it everywhere.

YogiBear_ said...

Old Jungle Saying...

There is nothing made by a man, which cannot be Hacked by another man.

"In God We Trust,
Rest strictly cash".!

Lost In Kansas said...

These types of devices have been used in Europe and South America for years. They bring a handheld swipe device to the table, swipe your card, and print the receipt out right at the table. I'm surprised the US is just now getting to this technology.

bill said...

I liken it to the automatic checkout counters at Home Depot where you see more and more people utilizing them as the user becomes more comfortable with the technology. Give it some time, I think you will see more and more restaurants (particularly the heavy volume, multiple location brands) adopting them as people become comfortable in using it. The key thing both in the supermarket checkout scenario as well as the restaurant scene is that the user is provided a choice.

The next logical step will be the "order from your table" at your convenience software. I guess it all depends on what is more important to you under the heading of "service" - speed or personal interaction. The answer to that is very subjective.

Dave said...

Paul -

In terms of Patient Kiosks, Check-ins and Co-pays - all good ideas.

I think one short term tactical savings is the use of credit-card swipe machines at Check-In (Outpatient, PT, etc.)

It's both a time saver and reminder to collect the co-pay up front. Wonder how much this would impact your overall receivables for Co-Pays! Days outstanding reductions? increased cash flow? Decreased time at the check in counter?