The role of bill payment in restaurant CX

How do new payment solutions ease friction & improve customer satisfaction?

Friday lunch. After enjoying a ramen bowl with three of your colleagues, you signal down the waiter to pay the bill. A scribbled receipt arrives, but as the itemised list is almost indecipherable, your group decides to split the total four ways – despite one of your colleagues ordering twice as much as everyone else. As you try to mentally calculate how much you all owe, someone asks the waiter if you can pay by card and the waiter wanders off to find an available POS terminal. You can’t use contactless, so you try to remember your PIN, eventually with success. After everyone has paid, you realise that service was not included on the bill and you debate whether it is more embarrassing to leave a small pile of loose change or leave no tip at all. You leave feeling a little stressed and embarrassed – a bad taste in your mouth even though the ramen was delicious.

This kind of experience exemplifies the importance of the payment phase in a restaurant customer journey. Research indicates that customers are four times less likely to recommend a restaurant if they have had a negative payment experience¹. Although many of these pain points may be the consequence of the payment provider and the technology they provide, it is more likely that the customer will attribute blame to the restaurant and not think twice about the payment provider. In this way, restaurants should be aware that the payment provider and technology they choose may have an impact on their customer experience.

Easing friction in the payment journey

In payments, good customer experience often equates to minimising friction – making payments as effortless as possible. Looking at the payments journey in restaurants, we can identify five touch points for bill payment. At each of these points, there is potential for friction depending on which payment methods are used.

Graph 1

While many dine-in customers still prefer cash, convenience drives a growing instalment preference for card payments. In 2016, card payments account for 36% of UK restaurant spend, compared to 20% in 2010². And with an increasing number of contactless payments – which grew by 154% in the last 12 months³ – stage four of the payments journey becomes even quicker and easier for the customer.

Emerging payment solutions

New payment solutions are doing even more to boost customer experience and at additional stages of the payments journey. Pain points at the first and second touch points are resolved as Pay-at-Table technologies remove the need to ask or wait for a bill, instead a clear itemised bill is available at the customer’s convenience. The third stage of splitting the bill becomes painless with the option to equally divide the bill or just pay for the items you ordered. Using a mobile wallet or payment card, customers can quickly pay their bill and immediately receive an electronic receipt, improving the experiences at stages four and five. The customer is given complete control and the restaurant owner also benefits from a more efficient service and an uplift in customer satisfaction.

Graph 2

In the recent months, Barclaycard has developed ‘Dine & Dash’⁴ – a smart payment ‘totem’ placed on each table allowing customers to use contactless payment to pay their bill – currently on consumer trial at Prezzo. Less hardware-heavy solutions are also emerging; fintechs such as Qkr! and FlyPay provide apps which integrate with existing payments systems to allow customers to view, split and pay their bill with their phones by scanning a QR code on their table or entering their table number. Qkr! and Flypay solutions are currently being piloted in Wagamama and Wahaca respectively, and both software solutions have formed partnerships with other major restaurant chains with the view to implementing the technology in the future bill payment journey. Upmarket restaurants may be more reluctant to adopt pay-at-table solutions, since personable interactions with waiters play a larger role in customer experience for fine dining.

Graph 3

While these technologies are still niche, we are seeing general changes in the payments ecosystem that are reducing friction between restaurants and their customers. Payment touch points become micro-touch points, taking minimal time and effort.

The consumer reaction

Certain consumer segments readily welcome technologies that make payments frictionless –Millennials seem to be the strongest driving force in new payment technologies⁵.  Yet to some segments, less active effort during the payments journey (i.e. getting out a card, putting in a PIN, signing a receipt) echoes a perceived reduction of control and can raise concerns about security and fraud – even if these new technologies are more secure. Restaurants can democratise by providing multiple payment options and giving control to their customers. Yet already, some restaurants have transitioned to cashless – UK food chain Tossed now only accept contactless or card payments in several London outlets. And with Tossed seeing increased turnover of 13.6% in the last year⁶,  it can be argued that this is a strategic move for restaurants troubled by busy service times.

Strategic solutions

The first step to improving a customer journey is to identify their biggest pain points using a data-based diagnostic approach. The ability to link specific operational elements – such as length of time, number of steps, waiter interaction – with customer satisfaction is vital when making strategic decisions about payments. Embracing new solutions can alleviate some of these pain points and improve customer experience, but only for consumers who are willing to use them. To maximise uptake, restaurants must empower their customers with readily available information as to how these technologies work to reassure them of their security. Meanwhile, waiters’ time can be freed up to better attend to those who prefer traditional payment methods and thus build upon customer relationships.




  2. Card spend data: The UK Card Association Detailed sector breakdown
    Total spend data: ONS Consumer time series dataset
  3. The UK Card Association Card Expenditure Report April 2017