Is the time right for table-side credit card tech to go mainstream in America?

Photo: Getty Images/AleksandarGeorgiev
Aug 24, 2022

Having traveled in Europe and most recently, in Mexico, I was impressed by the fact that most restaurants I frequented use table-side credit card authorization terminals, irrespective of type or level of service and price points. These devices enable the restaurant guest to pay by credit card or debit card, either by inserting a card into a mobile device or contactlessly. The card never leaves the customer. In the U.S., these devices are now starting to become more widespread, but have yet to approach critical mass.

Nathaniel Short, SVP of direct sales at Paysafe tells us that small independents and chains differ in the rate of adoption. “There is hope that the increase in use at the chain level will be the trigger to convince single ownership businesses to follow suit.”

As to the rate of adoption, Mr. Short adds, “EMV (Europay, Mastercard and Visa) was first introduced to Europe in 1992, in France. This reduced card fraud in France by approximately 80 percent since its introduction and started the push across all of Europe. In contrast, North America first introduced EMV in 2012, 20 years after Europe. A second factor is the tipping culture in the U.S., and the uncomfortable process of calculating the tip for the server, while they tend to hover over the customer.”

“The lack of seamless integrations, support and training for legacy POS solutions is a major prohibitor of at-the-table-payment adoption” Mr. Short adds.

Most agree that the use of these terminals speeds the turns per table, thus potentially increasing business.

Staff shortage is cited as another good reason for adoption.

Katie Dally McMains, head of business & product communications at Square, sees a steady increase in usage in the U.S., especially among full-service restaurants.  “Mobile ordering is an example of a technology solution to help with current staffing shortages — and as restaurants continue to face that challenge, adoption is likely to continue accelerating,” she said.

In favor of user acceptance or down-right demand, one should note that tipping can be suggested on the terminal, or an exact amount specified by the patron, and that credit card issuers know the subscriber’s email address and can easily send the patron a receipt without having to enter it.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect table-side credit card authorization terminals to become commonplace in U.S. restaurants? What factors are likely to facilitate or impede adoption?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The pace of deployment here is borderline ridiculous."

Join the Discussion!

25 Comments on "Is the time right for table-side credit card tech to go mainstream in America?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Neil Saunders

Aside from Apple Pay and similar systems, I find the whole US payments landscape very old fashioned. It’s not just the lack of payment terminals in restaurants, it’s the fact I can use my credit card to pay for something without even the most cursory of security checks. No one even looks at the signature strip. In the UK almost all transactions require a PIN number to be entered into the terminal. It does not prevent all fraud, but it is helpful.

David Naumann

Spot on Neil! The U.S. is definitely a laggard in the adoption of mobile payments and now time to play catch up. The increased speed of service and added security are compelling value propositions for both restaurant owners and guests.

Mark Ryski

Table-side credit authorization is widely used in Canada, and it is not only safer and more convenient for customers, but more efficient for restaurant servers. As noted in the article, the lack of integration with legacy POS systems is likely a big reason for the slower adoption – not to mention the two-plus years of utter disruption restaurants experienced due to the pandemic – it’s not surprising that they have no capital budgets to upgrade their technology. Table-side credit authorization will be common place.

Zel Bianco

It seems to be widespread in NYC and in Delaware where I just spent some time on PTO. It speeds the process of paying the check and and is safer to protect against fraud and covid so what’s not to like. Yes, the tipping process is a little uncomfortable, but not if you tip what servers really deserve, which is 20%.

DeAnn Campbell

Like most technology, the main limitation is the inability or unwillingness to abandon existing tech systems to invest in something new. But having recently travelled through Europe, the benefits in speed, security and convenience far outweigh the friction of tipping. Many retailers in the U.S. have already begun equipping staff with tablets or handheld POS devices in stores, so customers are already pushing restaurants in this direction.

Ron Margulis

Yes, yes, yes! And it’s not only European restaurants that have had this tech forever, as mentioned, Mexico is leading the US in adoption, as are Canada and much of Asia. The pace of deployment here is borderline ridiculous. The only reason for restaurants not to be using table-side credit card units had been the cost of having a few of these machines for the waitstaff and that’s not been a real limitation for a few years.

Ken Morris

I expect table-side to rapidly expand in the U.S. market. It makes so much sense to reduce fraud, increase customer satisfaction, reduce labor costs, speed table turnover, and I’m sure a number of other benefits too numerous to mention.

The biggest inhibitor to this is legacy, on-premise POS, but this is changing rapidly. On recent selections we have done in this space, almost all the viable POS solutions are cloud-based. This will happen in a tsunami of technology.

I’m also seeing more use of QR codes for table-side payments. Super convenient for the customer and zero spend for a standalone mPOS device. Not all diners are going to be fluent in scanning, of course.

Christine Russo

Absolutely. Digital wallets are a major major part of digital transformation for any physical consumer establishment: retail, stadiums, restaurant, QSR, etc.

Ian Percy

Several have mentioned Canada’s use of tableside card tech. That’s been true for quite a long time, it seems to me. I don’t understand why the US is so far behind. In a store earlier this week the credit device couldn’t even take a chip. That said, in a restaurant recently the handheld device recorded our order, was used to pay the bill and could even tell me what we ordered last time we ate there. Yesterday was the “right time” to go mainstream!

Dave Bruno

One can only hope table-side credit card payments become mainstream in the US. The only downside I see is the slightly awkward moment when entering the tip, but people will very quickly adapt to that, and if that awkwardness helps more servers earn a living wage, then I only see upsides. I think the only thing holding us back is the pace at which restaurants invest in the solutions. Consumers will adapt quickly — and happily.

Dick Seesel

The time is long past due for adapting table-side technology in the U.S. Like Bob, I have seen this in practice in Europe at least for the past decade, and I’ve also seen an increase in the use of mobile apps (like Apple Pay) to check out of restaurants in the U.S. I’m baffled at the slow rollout of faster technology in the U.S. given the good reasons for it.

Among all the other arguments in favor of table-side, it lets the diner pay and leave that much faster — one of my pet peeves as an impatient restaurant patron is the slow “checkout” process waiting for the bill, for the server to collect my credit card, to take it to the central credit card terminal, and to return it to my table.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
5 months 14 days ago

I have seen more of an adoption in the last year or so with restaurants here in the US. I hope Apple Pay isn’t too far behind. My biggest rub — they bring the machine in the middle of the meal to pay the bill.

Ryan Mathews

Of course, as soon as U.S. restauranteurs are willing to enter the 21st Century. Consumer convenience, security, and time saving will push the trend. Technology resistance, an unwillingness to invest in new technology, and inertia will impede adoption.

Georganne Bender

I have been working in Las Vegas since last week and have seen a fair amount of table-side payment in use. It hasn’t been in any of the fine dining establishments we have visited, but it’s out there. Staffing and tipping is an issue here, so I expect we will see it grow.

James Tenser

Hand-held payment terminals are presented more and more often in restaurants and other service establishments these days. Even my barber uses one.

In mom-and-pop establishments, adoption seems to be linked to the use of discount credit card processing services like Square and Clover, which provide the hardware.

If chain restaurants are lagging, it is likely due to sunk costs in their legacy systems, cost of new hardware, and the need for employee training.

Table-side is generally positive for diners, since it eliminates the wait time while a transaction is authorized. Most interfaces show suggested tip calculations (15%, 20%, 25% other), which helps even math-challenged diners make a quick decision with a tap.

While this may feel awkward at first, it is merely a change in the ritual that quickly becomes second nature. I expect it will be the prevailing norm within a few years.

Doug Garnett

My experience is the opposite of the argument made — it’s smaller places which use the technology more. Perhaps chains are slow to adopt and the real goal of this PR effort is to get chains to commit?

Gary Sankary

In 2022 seems foolish to even ask why anyone would ever allow anyone to take their credit card out of their sight for a few minutes or more to tender a transaction. We need to fix this.

Ananda Chakravarty

There seems to be a long life cycle to this trend, something has to change for the U.S. market to adjust in this direction. Some impediments:

  • Self-service, when full service is expected;
  • Table space;
  • Annoying ads and display outside of function;
  • Reminds customers about paying when they are enjoying their food;
  • Tech constraints and building infrastructure to support and maintain.

Mobile POS will gain traction far earlier than fixed units at tables. One example is UNOs which rolled it out but retracted the solution after testing it in certain markets. The problems still outweighed the advantages.

Mario Nowogrodzki
5 months 14 days ago

Agree 100%. In my many travels to Mexico, I was surprised that table-side credit card terminals are the norm. Always wonder why there is little or no adoption in the US. I just travelled to Europe and same thing.

Agree that it is a bit of a culture shift to have to tally the tip in front of the server, but terminals can automate that with auto suggested tips that a customer simply clicks on to accept.

It is time for the US to adopt this.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Having lived and taught in Europe, I have used the table-side system without issue for years. In addition to the card control and security issues, the convenience is noteworthy. The time to implement throughout the USA is way overdue.

Allison McGuire

I’m starting to see QR codes for payment on restaurant receipts, which is a perfect solution in my opinion. I pay using my phone whenever I’m ready. There’s no server standing there with pressure for a tip. It’s fast, simple, and secure. Second best option; table-side authorization. Days of handing over your credit card to a stranger should come to an end.

Mark Price

The combination of increased table turns, improved customer data tracking and addressing staff shortage issues seem to make tableside credit card authorization a no-brainer. The only challenge would be the cost of implementation and the ability to measure a payout. I would think that the payout from being able to market to customers for repeat visits would justify the entire expense in and of itself.

Brandon Rael

The emergence of touchless commerce and mobile payments during the pandemic was one of the silver linings of that challenging time. However, a select few restaurants and hospitality operations are up to date with the latest mobile payments innovations.

As we live in a mobile and digital-first society, the physical credit card transaction is a legacy model full of privacy and technical debt issues. It’s more than high time for touchless and mobile payments commerce to become commonplace, and the exceptions would be to cover the one-off physical card swipes.

Brad Halverson

Canadian restaurants have had this one down for some time. A seamless experience, no hassles and quicker departures. So hard to believe the USA is this far behind. If anyone should want to help subsidize restaurants with legacy POS system upgrades, it would be the credit card issuers who have to absorb the constant fraudulent charges.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

It’s beyond the right time. About two years ago, we tried a well-established family-run breakfast restaurant for the first time. We were surprised by the table-side credit card tech, which was easy, fast, and convenient. Another similar experience was at a local restaurant where the wait staff took care of the order and payment table-side with no paper involved. I have not seen the use of this technology in restaurant chains. So, I see smaller restaurants adopting newer payment technology versus larger chains’ slower evaluation and investment decision-making. Square introduced its card reader a dozen years ago, which turned any iPhone, iPad, or Android phone into a credit card processor. Those adopters were independent merchants and makers looking for a cheap, easy, and convenient solution to processing payments. The direction of tech adoption sometimes surprises.

"The pace of deployment here is borderline ridiculous."

Take Our Instant Poll

How likely are table-side credit card authorization terminals to become commonplace in U.S. restaurants within the next five years?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...