Your bill, sir. Photo via Viableware's Facebook page.

 Go out for dinner in Europe (or parts of Asia) and the meal ends with your server bearing a credit card scanner rather than a bill. You swipe the card yourself, like you would at the grocery store. It’s perhaps the only aspect of a European meal that’s more efficient and timesaving than its rushed American counterparts. Next week two of Ethan Stowell’s restaurants will implement this type of system as part of a pilot program for a product called Rail, made by Kirkland-based Viableware. 

Stowell is trying it out at his two newest establishments, Bar Cotto and Rione XIII. But while the European models, in Stowell’s words, “look like a labeling machine,” his version is a custom tablet more akin to a mini iPad. 

The point, says Stowell, is security for customers. Credit card information is better protected on these devices. If you must, you can leave a crappy tip in privacy: “If somebody doesn’t get great service nobody’s going to be there looking at the gratuity.” 

But most of all, Stowell is concerned about the tip you leave on your receipt not matching up with the tip that’s charged to your card. “It’s definitely something that happens in the restaurant industry, though it’s tough for us to talk about it.”

While he says it’s not a problem in his own realm (Stowell conducts random receipt checks for peace of mind and once had to fire an employee caught doctoring the tips on his receipts) it’s happened to him elsewhere. 

Rail recently integrated with the point of sale systems used in Stowell’s restaurants. The interface lets customers add whatever tip they want, split the bill any number of different ways, and get a receipt emailed, a process that should be familiar to anyone who has used a similar program, Square, to pay at the counter at places like Little Uncle, Kedai Makan, Crumble and Flake, and Hot Cakes. If you’re old school and want that paper, they can do that, too. Could this be another small way in which restaurants are refocusing on the diner?

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