Restaurant electronic solutions maker SoftTouch POS is integrating bitcoin into its flagship point-of-sale payment system, to capitalize on "the explosion in popularity of bitcoin" in 2013.
Bitcoin brings significant benefits to the hospitality industry, the company said. While the concept of a secure electronic currency with lower transaction fees and no chargebacks has been praised by business owners of all kinds, SoftTouch POS also cited worldwide adoption of bitcoin and its usefulness to travelers in particular as reasons for the decision.
"We've always been aggressive when it comes to innovation," said SoftTouch POS's president Michael Paycher. "We are early adopters of bitcoin and it's important for us to be the first fully integrated POS solution for restaurants nationwide, ie: bragging rights!"
"Since bitcoin hasn't penetrated the mainstream quite yet, we haven't received many requests for its integration, however our approach has never been to wait and see. We believe bitcoin popularity is inevitable," he added.
The company uses BitPay as its payment processing gateway.
Paycher says the SoftTouch POS system is suitable for restaurants of any size, from a small coffee shop to an upscale eatery or chain of outlets. The time required to get things running can vary based on the size of the business, though for smaller stores it can be implemented in as little as one week.
"Our software products are sold through a value added reseller network, so the cost of each implementation can vary too. Our prices tend to be amongst the lowest in the industry while offering comprehensive functionality," Paycher said.
The Florida-based company has been developing electronic solutions for the hospitality industry since 1994, and their product line includes devices and software for every imaginable restaurant function, from visual table layout and booking systems to staff time management recorders. A restaurant's SoftTouch POS menu configuration can integrate with a website, allowing customers to place orders online.
In-restaurant bitcoin use
On the ground, early-adopting eateries who accept bitcoin can have the same kind of mixed feelings towards digital currency as its other users in the 'physical' world. While sidestepping bank transaction and credit card merchant fees is appealing, there is always the need to turn bitcoin into fiat currency in a 'real' bank account, at least until bitcoin acceptance extends to suppliers and landlords as well.
Traci Consoli owns The Pink Cow in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district, an institution among expats and locals in the entrepreneurial innovation community. To date, it is the only restaurant in the metropolitan area of 35+ million people known to accept bitcoin and functions hopefully as a working example to other Japanese businesses of what bitcoin could do for them.
"In the restaurant business the average profit margin is only 10%," she said. "Banks charge 5% just to process the payments, so it's effectively 50% of our profits gone to banks for pushing a button."
Being the only bitcoin-accepting business in town can still be tough at times though.
"We're all about new and innovative things at the Pink Cow, but it doesn't always pay to be an innovator. Sometimes, if you believe in something, you just have to do it. Someone's got to," she explained, adding:
Watching The Pink Cow's Android tablet and QR code system in action showed it worked reasonably well; quicker than a credit card but not as smoothly as the myriad RFID card e-cash systems popular in Tokyo like Suica, Waon and Rakuten Edy. The Pink Cow's clientele, however, tended towards bitcoin friendly or curious and were happy to wait a few extra seconds to try something new.
At this point, SoftTouch POS sells to the US and Canadian markets where BitPay is more established. While the integrated approach makes bitcoin payment processing speed seamless (usually just a few seconds) exchanging that amount to fiat is entirely in BitPay's hands and SoftTouch POS isn't able to make guarantees. Michael Paycher added that, for North American clients at least, BitPay usually does once-a-day direct deposits into merchants' bank accounts.
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