TableSafe is changing the game for restaurant payment systems

The Kirkland-based restaurant-payment technology company is on the cusp of rolling out the latest version of Rail, a pay-at-the-table, electronic system that mimics a paper check presentation, but allows customers to divide the bill and give feedback about their experience.


Photo courtesy Tablesafe

Security has been the cornerstone of the company since it was founded in 2011, and TableSafe found a way to sidestep the potential of a security breach by creating the handheld system called Rail that enables customers to handle their own transaction, said TableSafe president Steve McKean. Restaurants never have to see or store credit card numbers.

Plus, one of the most enticing aspects of Rail is the ability to accept any form of payment.

The first version of Rail could only accommodate the magnetized strip on debit and credit cards, and came right on the heels of a new mandate that made merchants liable for fraudulent activity after October 2015, if they didn’t have machines to accommodate new chip-based cards.

“We decided we could release the Rail (with just the strip reader) or lick our wounds and look at what’s coming in the future and make something compliant with the liability shift,” McKean said.

TableSafe plans to release an initial software update at the end of June, which will expand payment options. McKean estimates that by the fall, the device will be able to accept any transaction type — chip-based cards, QR codes, mobile phones, and gift cards.

Rail limits the payment interaction to one or two visits. When customers are ready for the check, they can flag down the server, who will drop the bill folder at the table. Once payment is completed, a green light will appear on the device. If the light is blue, servers know the customer has requested a receipt, and if it’s flashing green then they know someone has paid in cash. The red light indicates the customer has a question.

With traditional payment systems, servers could make eight trips back-and-forth to the table and to other tables between dropping off a check and closing it out. The simplicity of Rail frees up server time to focus on customers who may be more likely to order another drink or add a desert, McKean said.

Restaurant revenue is estimated to increase 5 percent just by having the device, McKean said. Tables are turned faster, fewer paper receipts are used and customers ordered more items, he said. Restaurants reported that the device paid for itself after 14 to 18 months.

A three-question survey and promotional products are also included in the features. Surveys have always been part of the design, but TableSafe has expanded the objections. The first question always prompts customers to rate their overall experience. If the restaurant gets an undesirable response, then TableSafe immediately sends a text to the manager.

“(The idea was to) protect restaurants from bad media from Yelp,” McKean said.

Instead of posting a complaint online about their undercooked steak or poor service, customers can express their dissatisfaction on the survey.


TableSafe’s Rail payment system. Photo by Rachel Coward.

The first question always asks customers to rate their experience, and restaurants can customize the following two questions — which are rotated randomly. McKean said they found if customers were asked more than three questions, the response rates dropped way off.

With the current method, restaurants get an 80 percent response rate on the first question and more than 70 percent on the following two. That’s an astounding rate, McKean said and it provides a true customer response. Restaurants can learn more about their customer demographic and the popularity of an upcoming event.

“As we dug deeper, we found additional value to that transaction,” he said. “It can establish a grade-point average for servers based on the surveys. Now, with a high response rate from customers, we can establish who’s a good server and who needs more attention to improve performance.”

The new interface design — which will be released in May — has been engineered to make the entire process seamless and easy for all age demographics, McKean said. Feedback indicated 90 percent of users thought the transaction was simple and didn’t need help from the server.

After the software update, McKean anticipates more than 100 restaurants will purchase the device, and TableSafe will be on-pace to add an estimated 300 more clients per month following the June launch.

The price point varies depending on how many devices a restaurant wants, said Erik Ploof, vice president of business development and marketing.

Clients receive the folio covers, a charging station and a 36-month subscription to TableSafe’s UDX portal that provides software, payment process features, and guest and restaurant analytics. For 10-15 devices, the price tag would be $12,000 to $18,000 over a 3-year period, Ploof said.

Rail interreacts with restaurants current point-of-sale (POS) machines, but they plan to release and independent version of Rail in September or October.

Restaurants in Los Angeles, 71Above and Takami Elevate, have already jumped on board to be part of the initial launch.

Emory’s on Silver Lake in Everett and McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steak in Bellevue currently use TableSafe’s prototype, and will receive an updated version in May. Ploof said he couldn’t disclose which other Eastside restaurants have joined TableSafe’s clientele, but indicated many more will be part of their launch.