San Francisco restaurant takes mobile payments – but not cash

When he set out to open a gourmet sandwich shop in San Francisco last year, David Silverglide was determined to build it differently from the start. The fast casual restaurant, known as Split Bread, would not accept cash, only cards or mobile payments via QR codes.

It’s a trend that has found footing in the quick-service and fast casual dining space particularly, and Silverglide, who also operates seven Mixt Greens restaurants with business partner Andrew Swallow, said it saves his staff time and money while freeing them up to do what they do best: serve and interact with customers.

Split Bread’s early experiences were a topic of discussion at Money2020, held Oct. Close-up of QR code on Split Bread table6-10 in Las Vegas. Silverglide was part of a session titled “PayPal, POS & Main Street Realities: Split Bread’s Merchant Perspective,” which drew numerous attendees who were curious to hear about a real-world mobile payment deployment.

How it works

Split Bread’s tabletops each have a metal stripe with a QR code printed on them; customers scan the code with a smartphone camera, then order from the digital menu, pay with a stored credit card and either have their food brought to the table or pick it up at the counter. The whole transaction can be accomplished without speaking to another person. Customers can also order ahead.

Silverglide said his staff, which has bought into the business’ technology push, initially spent a lot of time helping customers get comfortable with the system. Many patrons needed to know how to download a QR scanner and how to use it.

“We learned early on that lots of people are much less familiar and savvy with smartphones than you think they are,” Silverglide told Mobile Payments Today. “They may know what a QR code is, may have a scanner. But if it doesn’t work right off the bat, their level of persistence is not high. Customers won’t keep trying if it doesn’t work. They’ll just get in line.”

The QR system is device-agnostic — Silverglide said customers have paid using more than 30 device variations — and integrated seamlessly with the restaurant’s cloud-based POS system. Silverglide hasn’t formally tracked how many customers choose the mobile payment option, but early on, it seemed to run about 30 percent.

The ability to skip the line is also an incentive for customer adoption. “If there’s a queue out the door and they see four tables open, they realize they can sit down and order lunch,” he said. “It saves them time.”

Staying device-agnostic was key for a small company, he said. “When you’re a Chipotle and have thousands of stores, you can ask your customers to download your app, but when you’re one location, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The hassle of cash

While it’s straightforward, Silverglide sees drawbacks to cash. A manager, likely the most highly paid person on duty, must dedicate time to tending it. “It’s very time-consuming,” he said. “They have to count it in the morning, check out drawers, make bank deposits. Corporate staff have to match and reconcile. Inevitably, there is some loss, whether it’s a counting error or misplaced bills. It slows everything down.”

And anyone who’s seen their fingers turn black after 20 minutes of working a register knows cash is filthy, he said, which isn’t great in a space that prides itself on fresh food.

As for the question of credit and debit card fees, Silverglide said the company analyzed its rates and concluded that given the inefficiencies of cash, converting to all-electronic transactions is “absolutely cost-effective.”

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Lionnel Yamentou Ndzogoue is a young African dreamer, with the vision of creating 10,000 or more jobs in Africa by 2035 in contribution to wealth creation on the continent. This blog is a platform for expressing his thoughts on the world, technology, personal development and other subjects as they come to mind. Some content is republished from other online sources.