Patrons Check Selves Out at Legal Sea Foods

Discussion
Mar 15, 2007

By George Anderson

It’s happened to anyone who has gone to restaurant. You finish your meal, hand over the plastic to the waiter/waitress, wait and begin to get fidgety as you wonder what could possibly be taking so long to pay for your meal and go.

Legal Sea Foods believes it may have the answer to this problem and it basically comes down to letting its patrons take care of the check without them or their credit card ever having to leave the table. The answer is a hand-held payment device at the side of each table.

Many like what they see as a security advantage in using the tableside payment devices. Because consumers never need to hand over their credit card, the perception is identity theft is much less likely.

“When we rolled it out, some people were offended by it or intimidated,” Roger Berkowitz, Legal Sea Food’s chief executive, told The Boston Globe. “People are there to relax and have a good time so there is a little bit of a fine line. But given the furor over credit-card protection, we’re definitely starting to see more people wanting to experiment with it.”

A poll run by The Globe in connection with the story asked readers: “Would you feel more comfortable if a credit card transaction took place at your restaurant’s table?”

With 843 counts voted as of this writing, roughly 84 percent of respondents answered they were comfortable with paying at the table as a precaution against possible identity theft. The balance didn’t like the idea, saying it would ruin the ambience of the restaurant experience.

Legal Sea Foods will offer the hand-held tableside devices at all of its 34 restaurants.

Discussion Questions: Will the perceived security of the tableside payment devices increase the likelihood that consumers will choose Legal Sea Foods over other seafood restaurants without a similar payment option? Do you think the devices will become widespread in the restaurant business?

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19 Comments on "Patrons Check Selves Out at Legal Sea Foods"

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Matt Werhner
Guest
Matt Werhner
10 years 8 months ago
I don’t think this will lead to an increase in business necessarily, but I do think this is a first step for implementing an industry standard that is long overdue in the United States. Many of today’s consumers choose the do-it-yourself method, and this is evident in many POS situations. It really is a natural evolution of the payment process for the industry, just as pay-at-the-pump transformed the c-store POS and self-checkout has gained popularity in supermarkets, hardware stores, etc. Securtiy is an increasing concern for consumers and “skimming” devices are becoming a bigger issue in the restaurant industry. Most consumers are willing to just hand their credit card to a waiter, but as more stories of fraud arise, this mentality will change. Taking this topic one step further, another evolution of this process has to do with the ordering portion. When will consumers have the ability to order directly from a touchscreen at the table? This will have a significant impact on cutting labor costs. I don’t think this technology is too far away… Read more »
Nikki Baird
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Well, I disagree with James. If the dining experience was miserable, presenting the check and taking payment in some kind of highly satisfying way ain’t gonna salvage THAT tip. On the other hand, I’ve certainly had a good service experience ruined when it took us longer to pay than it did to eat.

There are certainly going to be some dining scenarios where self-service doesn’t fit the theme, and some (family dining, when antsy kids make a fast getaway a necessity, for example) where it helps tremendously. But to an earlier point–you’ve got to let the customer decide.

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
10 years 8 months ago

This is a winner for the restaurant industry for many reasons, but first thought that comes to mind is that it will make their servers more productive and help turn tables quicker, which will increase revenues at busy times.

Mark Lilien
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Having eaten several times at Legal Sea Foods at crush time, I agree with Karen Miller. Anything that turns the tables faster helps LSF reach its profit goals. I’m surprised that no major chain restaurant (fast food or otherwise) has widely adopted self-service touch screen ordering. As far as eliminating the server goes, as a child in the 1950’s my favorite restaurant was The Hamburger Train, where your order was delivered by Lionel. A restaurant today could certainly install tableside swipers for credit cards, touch screen ordering, and an electric train, and thereby eliminate the servers completely. But not the bartender!

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
10 years 8 months ago

Let me magnify something a couple of the participants have mentioned: it is all about what customers want, and not all customers want the same thing. For some, speed is important, for others security is important, for others being served is important. Each of these various expectations must be defined and measured precisely in order to understand what various groups of customers want. Some customers might love the pay-at-the-table device, and they may assume that everyone else will love it too. Not so. Even industry experts fall into this trap.

Our restaurant data shows that there are five core expectations that are absolutely critical to the success of a restaurant. Perhaps not surprisingly to some, how payment is made is not one of them.

Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
10 years 8 months ago
As a diner, I would like to know–if I am assuming tasks once performed by the server, is my cost of dining decreasing in some way? Of course not; it is just a transference of tasks and related costs onto the customer. This past weekend at J.C. Penney, I was with my 80-year old mother making a purchase. After serving herself and carrying the merchandise past the teenager standing idly at a so-called Customer Service desk, she handed the clerk her J.C. Penney charge card only to have it handed back to her and told to swipe it herself in a card reader. So, exactly what is the role of the clerk (we cannot reasonably use the term salesperson any longer) in a retail store? Selection of merchandise is self-service, there is generally no product knowledge whatsoever, the customer carries her merchandise to the clerk, the customer swipes her own credit card. So the clerk is now a) running a scanner over the item and b) putting it in a plastic bag. Both of which… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
From the dining patron’s perspective, this is a discussion about trade-offs. On one hand, we have perceived issues of credit card security and speed of service. On the other, the customer service experience and status quo. It’s not all bad or all good, but a matter of what type of total experience does the restaurant want to create. I wonder if Legal Sea Foods has tested the impact of self-payment on tips. For the restaurant server, presenting and returning the check is the final opportunity to make a favorable impression on diners and thereby encourage gratuities. Certainly the use of tableside card swipes would create the correct impression that the server is doing a bit less by way of service. Moreso, if touchscreen menus are used. Factor in the anonymity of tableside swipes, and tips might shrink. If we make the server’s job less lucrative, he/she will be less satisfied on the job, which translates to lower service quality…and so on, in a downward spiral. A final thought: Widespread adoption of “smart tables” in restaurants… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 8 months ago

Anyone who pays for gas at the pump (really called a “dispenser,” since the pumps are located underground) should be comfortable with this technological application. Pump gas, pump food. What’s the big deal?

Here’s one big deal: Often in high-end, multi-person dining experiences, the elder, wealthier host pays the bill. Thanks, Dad. But if payment involves more than slipping a card into the plastic payment folder presented by the waiter, they’re going to fog out. They’ll be challenged (and look foolish) if they have to fuss with something that looks like a videogame controller.

But, it’s also a rationale for tipping less. Less service, smaller tip.

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
10 years 8 months ago

Legal Sea Foods, in addition to providing some great food, definitely is moving in the right direction with tableside patron checkout. Any innovation will face some resistance, but this is a trend that I think will flow throughout the restaurant industry in the next decade. Yes, it addresses a security issue. But speed, convenience, labor costs, and other factors all are at play. Some establishments may consider it an advantage to maintain the current system, just like some stores will avoid self-checkout. That is fine–choice makes for a more interesting retail environment. But for those of us who have had long waits while our servers tended to other customers (and who aren’t technophobes), this is great.

Zel Bianco
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Gee, I hope so. The identity/security reasons aside, it is sometimes maddening how long it takes to get the attention of the server to hand over your credit card and then to finally get it back. If you’re not in a rush, who cares, but when is that the case? This is even more annoying when you’ve had a mediocre meal that was expensive to boot.

This is a good idea which should increase business for LSF, although I doubt it will make people decide to go out of their way just because of it. Self check-out has been a good thing for retail at most classes of trade, why not the casual dining industry as well? I do not, however, see it becoming something we’ll see at the upper end of the business.

Simon Poulton
Guest
Simon Poulton
10 years 8 months ago

It is only new here. Many, many restaurants in Europe do this and have been for a long time.

It makes sense on all practical levels.

Lacks a certain Je ne sais quoi though…but we have to adjust. I don’t imagine they will be doing it at Le Cirque or Bernadin.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

People aren’t likely to choose a restaurant on this basis alone but more and more restaurants will start using similar systems. In Europe it has been going on for years. After being introduced in the UK a year or so ago, I forgot on my last visit to the US that I had to hang around and wait for the waiter to let me sign a slip of paper. Much easier, more convenient, faster and safer. There is way too much room for frustration and annoyance–often spoiling the meal–when you have to go through the old-fashioned payment rigamarole.

Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
10 years 8 months ago

I believe Legal Seafood is exhibiting great business savvy! In Legal’s niche, diners appreciate options and the option to complete the meal and get on with the rest of their day is totally welcome. Those who want the social interaction of having someone hand them a bill, leave with payment and walk the transaction back for completion can have it…but many of us would welcome wrapping up the meal experience when we are ready…leaving us with a good taste in our mouths!

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 8 months ago

“Check yourself out” sounds like a fishy idea to increase business. It’s probably a perceived convenience for those who now prefer eating at Legal Sea Foods, but it’s the tastiness of the fish dish that has the greatest drawing power for becoming one’s favorite fish house.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Not only will tableside checkout become wildly popular, at the rate service is going, customers will soon place their own orders in the kitchen and schlep their own food back to the table.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Got to agree this is a good idea. And with fewer people handling the credit card, the safer I feel. I go to Sonic a lot and you can swipe your card without leaving the car. Sonic has been doing this for a long time at their drive-ins.

Todd Belveal
Guest
Todd Belveal
10 years 8 months ago

Although I am a bit young to remember, this reminds me of the days of the automat. Having spent a lot of time researching why consumers select restaurants, perceived security of the checkout process is rarely on the list. Although a novelty, I do not believe this will drive people to choose Legal Sea Foods over another dining experience. While I can appreciate the chain’s concern for security, as identity theft is certainly an issue, simply transferring a server’s job responsibilities to me as a customer is not a solution. Although it is tough to judge without eating there and trying the system, it is difficult to see how this will enhance the dining experience at at more expensive restaurants such as Legal. However, I can see application at establishments where experience is less associated with value.

Derek Leslie
Guest
Derek Leslie
10 years 8 months ago

This initiative is a useful help to speeding up the payment for some patrons. I would be interested to see how it handles split bills, as this would normally be taken care of by the POS system. Payment delays are also only one of many delays that hold up turning around tables – this alone will only have a marginal impact. The tipping issue will also be a big negative for staff, especially in the US, as customers may be more inclined to pay and not tip under this scenario. Finally, as some people have already mentioned, the idea of “lets go there they have a really neat way to pay” somehow being a big driver in the quality restaurant environment is a bit unlikely.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 8 months ago

Wow. Why don’t more restaurants offer this? Table side patron checkout is innovative, self-directed and fast. This system would be great at airports and could spread quickly through word of mouth. People like being in control and leaving a restaurant when they want to is a great benefit to consumers.

As to whether this will spread throughout the restaurant business depends on the cost of the technology and the way it is “introduced” to consumers.

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