Jingle bells, wrapping paper, presents, and dining on the go—a medley of seasonal traditions mark the holidays year after year. For quick-service restaurants accommodating shoppers on the run, the holiday season often means increased traffic, longer order and checkout lines, and greater customer demand. In fact, according to First Data’s November and December 2012 SpendTrend reports, which aggregate same-store sales activity for card-based payments, year-over-year dollar volume growth in Food Services/Drinking Places was up by 8.7 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively, as consumers chose to eat out more during the holidays.

More good news for operators is that consumer sentiment for the 2013 holiday season has improved. Deloitte’s 2013 annual holiday survey indicates an increase in expected gift buying and overall holiday spending, and spending on socializing away from the home is expected to increase by 12 percent from 2012.

So what does this mean for you? Quick-serve owners and operators have an opportunity to increase sales and streamline transactions by ensuring they are equipped with the proper payment technology. Today’s next-generation point-of-sale (POS) systems, including smart devices, enable merchants to offer customers targeted service, value incentives, and a consistent experience. By taking steps as simple as upgrading existing software, or by starting from scratch with a new, all-in-one hardware POS system, operators can improve their bottom line this holiday season and year-round.

Accepting smart device payments

Going mobile helps meet evolving customer expectations and offers a strong return on investment. Given the emergence of sophisticated mobile devices, more consumers expect an experience that is simultaneously integrated, personalized, secure, and smart. Mobile payments can satisfy consumer demand while also increasing foot traffic and sales.

Mobile POS solutions cut down on time at the register and keep long lines moving faster. It sounds simple, but faster check-out lines are a significant value-add during the most important shopping season of the year. They enable quick serves to process more transactions in less time and keep time-crunched shoppers from leaving the line in order to move on to their next to-do. Smart devices also influence purchasing decisions and streamline the redemption process for loyalty programs and promotions.

The NRA's 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast found that two in five quick-serve consumers would use smartphone apps to place orders or view menus, and more than 25 percent would use mobile payment options.

Technology has changed the way consumers interact with merchants and vice versa. As a quick-serve owner/operator, you can use smart devices to execute highly targeted promotions that are more cost-effective than other marketing tactics. For example, smart devices have opened the door to prepaid mobile apps, smartphone-based media purchases, and near field communication (NFC) or cloud-based technology. Savvy quick serves will take advantage of this evolution in commerce before the peak of holiday season to ensure they are reaching customers across channels and maximizing sales.

Looking into 2014, next-generation POS systems will go beyond just payments processing. Complete solutions leverage cloud-based storage to enable operators to access reports, review data, and make real-time updates. These new capabilities are designed to fully support all aspects of merchant-customer interactions, and moving merchant activity to the cloud will continue to gain traction among businesses.

There are many indications that consumers want smarter payment terminals; in fact, the National Restaurant Association’s 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast found that at quick-service restaurants, 44 percent of consumers say they would use self-order terminals; two in five would use smartphone apps to place orders or view menus; and more than 25 percent would use mobile payment options. Less than 2 percent of quick serves offer these technologies, but nearly half (48 percent) said they plan to invest more in customer-facing technology this year.

The next step

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge that many of your customers would happily use next-gen POS systems, it’s time to start looking at upgrade options. Improving a POS system doesn’t have to be difficult; often merchants can make updates by simply upgrading existing software or hardware. Owners and operators should be on the lookout for new technologies that will benefit their business on a year-round basis, not just around the holidays when they see an influx of activity.

If you already have a smart payments system, you’re on the right track. If you don’t yet but you’d like to, do your research to ensure you select a provider that will meet your needs. Criteria to look for could include whether your partner supports POS systems that go beyond mobile transactions; their customer service hours and capabilities; and other services the company offers such as data security, mobile marketing, social media, loyalty programs, and personalization opportunities. With just a few extra steps, you can ring in the holiday season and the New Year with increased sales.

Russell Bird is product group leader of POS solutions at First Data.
Consumer Trends, Ordering, Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story