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October 31, 2014

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Manufacturing & Technology Quarterly:

Restaurant is Nevada’s first to serve up pay-at-table technology

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Steve Marcus

Bob Ansara, owner of Ricardo’s, says his restaurant is the first one in Nevada to offer the pay-at-the-table technology, on display.

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Card security: A pay-at-the-table device is shown at Ricardo's restaurant on Sept. 23. The devices have the potential to reduce fraud as credit cards never leave the customer.

Beyond the Sun

In these times of identity theft and credit card scams, you know that sinking feeling you get when you pay for a meal at a restaurant and the server walks away with your Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover credit or debit card.

Will this be like the millions of routine transactions that occur every day, or will it be that one time that the card becomes a passport to your financial holdings? Will someone drain your bank account or damage your credit rating?

A longtime Las Vegas restaurateur is using technology to minimize the heartburn of a potential transaction-gone-wrong by introducing a hand-held device that completes the transaction at the table.

“Our guests get to keep their credit card in their possession at all times, creating a safe transaction from start to finish,” said Bob Ansara, president of Ricardo’s, a restaurant that has served Sonoran-style Mexican food in Las Vegas since 1979.

Ansara says Ricardo’s is the first restaurant in Nevada to offer the pay-at-the-table technology, developed by Toronto-based Ingenico Canada Ltd.

“Everybody has a fraud or identity theft story to tell,” Ansara said. “So our guests love this system because it provides a greater comfort level when they can see the whole transaction at their table.”

Although he likes the system now, Ansara, an avowed nontechie, almost didn’t have it installed because of the early challenges of getting it on line.

It took networking experts seven months to write a program that would enable the brick-sized Ingenico device to communicate with Ansaro’s Micros point-of-sale computer system that feeds sales information through the Alpine Payment Systems processor.

But once the software was installed, it was a snap to use.

Ansaro, who has a staff of 64, including 18 servers, said it only took the tech-savviest of his employees 20 minutes to learn how to use the device while those with a broader learning curve took about three days to get the hang of it.

The device is similar to the credit and debit card systems mounted at supermarket checkout stands. Customers swipe their cards through a slot on the device and are prompted to enter personal-identification numbers on a keypad.

Once the credit or debit information is captured, the device has an easy tip authorization button on preset keys so that diners can automatically add a tip of 15 percent, 18 percent or a dollar amount of the customer’s choosing. After the authorizations are completed, the device prints a record of the transaction for the customer to sign and a copy of the receipt.

The device works through a Bluetooth communications link between the portable unit and the Micros computer system. The Bluetooth connection — a wireless system similar to the technology that enables cell phone users to link a phone with an earpiece or headset — is secured with codes that prevent hackers from intercepting data.

The entire transaction process takes about 45 seconds, but it could take customers who are more technologically challenged a couple of minutes to complete.

“I think our older customers were a little reluctant to use it at first, but our younger customers don’t need any help and they zip right through it,” Ansara said.

Battery life is not a problem. The six units Ricardo’s has can be used for eight hours without recharging, but the restaurant’s procedure is for a server to use one, then return it to a base-station charging cradle so that it’s available any time the restaurant is open — 11 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Ansara said the normal amortization period for the Ingenico system is about 18 months, but Ricardo’s got a deal Ansara couldn’t pass up. Ingenico wanted a restaurant to be the beta test for the portable units and developed and installed the software at Ricardo’s, which has served an estimated 25 million customers from the family-run operation at Flamingo Road and Decatur Boulevard. In exchange, Ansara will share information about the system with other restaurateurs.

Terry McLoughlin, vice president of business development for Ingenico, said his company, the market leader in payment terminal technology, has about 250,000 of the portable units deployed worldwide and North America is considered a major growth market.

“Europe has had smart cards and PIN-based terminals for years, but we’re seeing growth in the United States as more people shift from credit to debit transactions,” he said.

McLoughlin theorized the public is being more conscientious about credit transactions and the keypad systems are perfect for tableside debit payments.

He said the portable units cost about $200 each, but there are several other variables on entire systems that make estimating the cost difficult.

McLoughlin said 70 percent of all instances of credit card “skimming” — stealing credit card numbers and then selling them on the Internet — occur during restaurant transactions. He added that not only do pay-at-the-table systems greatly reduce the possibility of skimming, but they add to operational efficiencies at restaurants because a server doesn’t have to make as many trips between the diner and the payment terminal with a portable device.

Ansara expects the use of the technology to grow along with as the popularity of debit cards.

“I don’t use a debit card for transactions myself,” Ansara said. “But I know that more and more people are using them, especially the younger customers who are used to the technology and are comfortable with it.”

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