We’ve all been there: delicious food and drink, friendly staff, lovely atmosphere… but now it’s time to settle up and the waiter is nowhere to be found. You eventually see him with another customer, but you can’t catch his eye. You grab the attention of the maître d′, who says she will have someone bring the bill over right away. You wait, but nothing arrives. After asking again, your waiter eventually brings the bill over on a silver platter, leaves it on the table and disappears once more. You go through the entire, frustrating process once more so that you can arrange for a card machine to be brought to the table.

For restaurants and hotels that go to great lengths to provide luxurious front-end experiences, the back-end, ‘admin’ side of proceedings – especially when it comes to paying the bill – is often neglected, which is surprising given that this is where they are getting their money. A 2016 survey by QikServe found that over one in ten UK restaurant-goers have admitted to leaving a restaurant, café or bar without paying the bill, either because they didn’t want to wait any more, or couldn’t find a member of staff.

There have been a number of studies over the past few years into how long it takes between customers deciding that they want the bill and making the payment, but general consensus is that the average time is between ten and twelve minutes. This could easily result in a missed train, getting caught in a thunderstorm, or missing ten vital minutes in bed after a long day.

Of course, there are normally good reasons for why customers are forced to wait for the bill – staff rushed off their feet, hot food waiting to be served, the time taken for a hotel to calculate the bill – but if the business is losing money because of walk-outs, poor reviews and customers deciding not to come back because of an unfavourable payment experience, changes need to be made.

Payments made online or in-store are constantly becoming faster and more seamless using tools such as e-wallets, stored card credentials and contactless payments. Restaurants and hotels need to be inventive in order to replicate the flexibility and convenience that make the payment process so simple elsewhere, and to eradicate the discord between customers, staff and the card machine that causes so much annoyance.     

So what can restaurants and hotels do?

The most common way that hospitality merchants put the power of paying back in the hands of the customer is by developing apps where the bill can be settled without the need for the waiter – or indeed a card – to be present. Restaurant chains such as Wagamama, Five Guys and Pizza Express have apps where customers can save card details for a super speedy checkout. For restaurants without the financial depth to create their own apps, they can partner with any one of a number of platforms which provide this service on a more general basis, such as Qkr!, MyCheck and Flypay.

When the payment process is controlled by the customer via an app, they can avoid the delay between finishing their meal and settling up. Given the electrifying pace at which online and retail purchases have improved over the last decade, it’s perhaps strange that more hasn’t been done to address the wait between finishing the experience and paying the bill in hospitality.

Space to grow in the hotel sector

This method of speeding up the payment process is becoming more and more common in restaurants, but is a relatively untapped approach for hotels. There are a few models on the market, such as Clock, and a large number of apps allowing guests to add extras to their bills (as well as a load of other actions), but these do not let the customer pay the final bill. If guests are left waiting for a long time at reception to pay their bill, the delay could easily cause them to miss something important such as a crucial business meeting.

Hotels and restaurants need to keep customer convenience increasing, or they will find that they’re left behind by more nimble competitors that are finding more flexible ways to minimise the admin and maximising the experience. Hotels and restaurants need to partner with payment companies that find simple solutions to complex problems, and keep the customer’s convenience at the core of their services, so that new and innovative ways to pay can be created. If they do this, hotels and restaurants can ensure that waiting for the bill becomes a thing of the past.

Secure Trading have over two decades’ worth of experience in powering payments of some of the most prestigious hospitality groups operating today within the industry. Our flexible approach and commitment to create simple, intelligent solutions for complex problems make us the clear choice for ambitious, growing hotel and restaurant businesses.

To find out more, please get in touch.