Slowly, restaurants are adopting new technology that lets you pay directly at your table so your card never leaves your hand.
Go to a restaurant in Europe or Asia and chances are they'll settle your tab table side. A waiter will walk up with a mobile machine that lets them dip your card and take your payment instantly. Here in the US, you rarely see this sort of technology in action.
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That's why I was super surprised to see a new system in place at a restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles called 71Above. It's a luxe place high in the sky above the city with fancy food and even fancier views.
They're using a new system for guests that allow them to pay right at their table. It's called the RAIL system by a company called TableSafe. It's basically the digital equivalent of the check folio you would get with a paper receipt inside. Except this one hides a tiny screen that lets you see your bill, split up the bill among friends and pay with multiple cards - you can even swipe or dip your card so it never leaves your sight.
It's a win-win situation for consumers and the restaurants. Consumers are in charge of their bill so they can pay only for specific items they ate and pass it along to friends in the party to take care of the rest or you can split up the bill in various ways without consulting a waiter that has to remember how much goes on which card. Restaurants get transactions that are instantly verified so there are fewer chargebacks. Plus, they can presents diners with surveys they'll actually take the time to fill out since they only require a few taps after they pay.
Outside of 71Above, another place I've seen tabletop pay tech is the chain restaurant Chili's. They have a system from a company called Ziosk. It offers some of the same functions and even allows you to order drinks and dessert from your table. The only downside to their system is that it includes a bunch of tablet games aimed at kids that they of course want to play - sticking Mom and Dad with a dollar or two charge on their bill for the privilege.
Of course, all of this new technology comes with costs to the restaurant - keeping these devices charged, the software up to date and running properly requires time and an investment. Which is why chances are, you'll still see that slip of paper when it's time to pay the tab.