A big cyber-thank you from your favorite eateries

April 6, 2019

When Salt Air restaurant reopened in downtown Rehoboth Beach, I remember being impressed by the system they used to notify guests when their table was available. They would take the guest’s cellphone number, then text when the table was ready. The upside was that the restaurant now had the opportunity to stay in touch with the guest after the fact. The downside was that the guest could go to a nearby bar for a sip, ignore the text and just end up eating elsewhere.

Times have changed! Leading-edge restaurants now have the opportunity to track and incentivize loyal customers with credit card-based systems that don’t require any substantial data entry on the part of the restaurant. Now they have more reason to return to their favorite eatery.

One of the companies heading up this system is ETS (Electronic Transactions Systems Inc.). The software is based on the idea that as technology becomes more prevalent, people are more susceptible to information overload. The result is an increased attachment to (and a tendency to pay more attention to) their smartphones - as opposed to email, for example, which requires opening up a separate application. More actions. More buttons to push. More time used. Not very effective. In short, immediate connection through mobile phones is superior to email.

ETS’ Sales, Marketing and Retention Tools (SMART system) helps business owners to convert first-time customers into repeat customers through text messages and social media.  A prime example of this is the online systems used by Starbucks. The customer can experience the entire restaurant (minus the coffee aroma) online, and then simply drop by the store to pick up their favorite product.

A particularly restaurant-friendly version of these systems can identify a guest as a new customer and send him or her a special gift card or discount inviting them to return. These aptly named “guerilla marketing” techniques keep the customer from being inundated with annoying advertising emails and texts by gently bringing him or her back to the restaurant to take advantage of attractive financial incentives.

The system can be programmed to send a gift card to customers within minutes of their dining in the restaurant. This little “gift” for being a new customer has proven to be an effective marketing tool. And though much of this recordkeeping is based on the customers’ credit card, even cash customers who ask for a text or email receipt can receive gift cards and discounts. A simple example of this is the checkout system at Fresh Market. You simply insert your credit card when you check out and it instantly recognizes you and emails a receipt - along with occasional ads and promotions unless you opt out.

On the internal side, these restaurant-friendly systems can also save owners, managers and chefs hundreds of late-night hours by reconciling daily inventory. If the system is populated with sufficient information, the software can even order specific food items, tracking the restaurants’ pars by monitoring costs, waste and item sales.

A few years ago, ETS expanded this mobile-based system into other businesses and even municipalities. For example, several years ago, Ocean City asked them to design a virtual bus pass system to eliminate paper transactions and physical bus passes. Every bus stop now urges the potential rider to download the app onto their phone so they can pay for their bus rides without fumbling for change at the point of purchase. Not at all unlike the virtual boarding passes and QR code scanners used by many airlines to speed the boarding/check-in process.

And for those who still like the feel of a gift card in their hands? The Emoney app allows for easy printing from your computer. As restaurants streamline their operations (and costs), efficient communication with past - and future - customers is becoming more and more important. And virtual, paperless and totally automatic systems that tempt loyal guests into returning are having a huge impact on the business of eating.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at