First came the self-checkout line in the supermarket. Then there was the online restaurant reservation. Don’t forget the iPhone credit card reader apps. And now, diners at least at a few Seattle restaurants, have the “RAIL” payment system. It splits the check, it calculates the tip, and it’s supposed to keep credit card transactions more secure.
Ethan Stowell just started using the system (developed by Kirkland-based Viableware) at his newest Seattle restaurants, Bar Cotto and Rione XIII. Customers will get a bill in what looks like the typical pleather bill folder, but, in this case, is a small electronic device with an encrypted credit card swiper. Customers can swipe their own cards and email receipts to themselves, or there’s an option to pay cash. The theory is that using the device will save servers (and customers) the time of having servers return to the table to grab the card, run the information, and walk back to drop off the receipt, while it will save customers the concern of having their credit cards out of their hands, or any worries about tip amounts being altered. (On the other side, will restaurateurs now need to worry about customers taking home the electronic devices?) A few restaurant chains, including P.F. Chang’s and Restaurants Unlimited, started using the system last year.
It was beta-tested at Boom Noodle, where Geekwire’s John Cook asked the all-important clincher question: What happens if you spill red wine or teriyaki sauce on an electronic bill? Viableware CEO Joe Snell told Cook that even ketchup is no problem; the system was designed for the “typical wear and tear in a restaurant environment.” No word on what happens if kids at the table try programming the device to play Plants vs. Zombies while the grownups linger over their coffee.