The Rail Device is the size of a traditional credit card book

The Boom Noodle restaurant at Seattle’s University Village was buzzing with activity when I stopped by for an early lunch this week. I had been invited there by Viableware CEO Joe Snell who wanted to show off his company’s new Rail device, a patent-pending technology that he believes could transform the way people pay their bills at restaurants.

Viableware, which raised cash back in August, allows restaurant patrons to peruse a digital copy of the bill, calculate tips, split the bill, answer survey questions and then “self swipe” credit cards at the table. Customers use a stylus to sign the digital screen, and can choose to have a copy of the receipt printed off at the restaurant or emailed to their personal accounts.

Viableware has been testing the Rail device with customers at Boom Noodle over the past month, and the company is gearing up for a full launch at the restaurant in the coming days. It is still working out some glitches, and during my tests this week the Rail device was running a bit slow.

Snell said they’ve received good feedback from Boom Noodle customers over the past month, and are finalizing improvements related to the tip calculator; instructions on how to swipe credit cards and more. Restaurants also have expressed a lot of interest, since Snell said the device helps solve security concerns associated with more traditional bill paying procedures. They also like the marketing applications and survey collection data.

So, the key question: How will the Rail hold up against erratic ketchup squirts and spilled glasses of red wine? I didn’t get the opportunity to dribble my chicken teriyaki juice on the Rail, but Snell said the device is specifically built for the typical wear and tear in a restaurant environment.

“Drops, ketchup, all of that stuff, it is designed to withstand it,” said Snell, adding that the device is designed to last up to three years.

One potential issue is that the Rail — a Linux-based system — works best with a stylus rather than the common touch interface popularized on the iPhone or iPad. One can imagine the stylus disappearing after a few uses, causing headaches for restaurants. At times during my demo, given the size of the Rail, I was inclined to just touch the screen rather than pick up the stylus.

Viableware integrates with point of sale systems at restaurants, including DinerWare and others. A restaurant of the size of Boom Noodle would likely use about a dozen Rail devices, paying about $300 per month for service, Snell said.

Here’s Snell showing off the technology at Boom Noodle.

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Comments

  • Guest

    Idea is awesome! Hardware looks clunky. Why isn’t this an app for iPhone and Android that lets me store my credit cards locally (unlocked by a PIN or password each time, for security) and then pay my bill at supporting restaurants? It seems they could do everything they’re doing now, charge restaurants less, and make more money.

    • Guest

      I agree that iPhone will be a less expensive and more usable alternative. Apple makes those things in their very own Chinese cities. How can Viableware advantagify the same economies of scale?

    • little_redshoes

      They do have this.  TabbedOut is one.  I know there are several restaurants that offer it, but one in the Seattle area is The AFK Tavern in Everett.

  • Guest

    Now I get to become a temporary employee, just like at Home Depot, and I can check myself out all in the name “technology” and “convenience”.

    Which is great until I need to figure out how to scan a 55 gallon trash can that you can’t physically place close enough to the screen.

    This, too, feels like a new way I can be advertised to and marketing data obtained from me. What do I get in exchange for it? Less service from the waitstaff, a device that can compute 15% for me (because math is hard), and a bill electronically emailed to me. Yippee.

    When I go out to a restaurant, I expect service, especially if I’m paying Boom Noodle prices. Part of the service is helping me to pay. I’m not going to do it myself. I’m going to toss my card up on the table, and you’re going to take it and do whatever you do with it. Then I’ll give you a tip if you did it efficiently.

    I’m a crotchety old man, I guess, that remembers when we had personalized service.

    • Guest

      What exactly is so “personalized” about a man taking your credit card, walking over to a PC, swiping it, placing the receipt the PC prints into a folio, and bringing it back?

      Face it, Edward, Paying is the most painful part of restaurant service. Using a handheld device is the way of the future. Just look at Europe which, for all its flaws, has this figured out. Instead of a server bringing your card to a PC, he brings a small credit card terminal to you so that you may insert your card and authorise payment. Safer. Quicker. Better.

    • Guest

      What exactly is so “personalized” about a man taking your credit card, walking over to a PC, swiping it, placing the receipt the PC prints into a folio, and bringing it back?

      Face it, Edward, Paying is the most painful part of restaurant service. Using a handheld device is the way of the future. Just look at Europe which, for all its flaws, has this figured out. Instead of a server bringing your card to a PC, he brings a small credit card terminal to you so that you may insert your card and authorise payment. Safer. Quicker. Better.

      • Guest

        As someone who lives in the UK (which isn’t really Europe, but the food service is the same) 4 months out of the year, UK/European food service is the worst in the modern westernized world. Please don’t hold up European food service as anything positive. Germany’s food service is good, the trains there run on time.

        (Takes forever to get waited on, nearly impossible to get additional drinks/silverware/whatever, … everything about it is fail. To get a simple meal ordered/eaten/paid for will take a minimum of an hour and fifteen minutes on the best of days.)

        • Guest

          I see you’ve never been to Seattle. An hour and fifteen minutes for a meal is an optimistic estimate here. Why do you think we keep developing these ways to replace waitrons with gadgets?

    • guest

      I’d like to know what is so “personalized” about the waiter taking your card, swiping it in a skimmer (yours along with 300 other people); selling the info to some identity thief for about $5K and you getting a nice whopping maxed cc bill. With this, your information is safe & secure – you have total controll over what happens to your sensitive info.

      Also, you want “personalized” service — because the server isn’t running around like a chicken with their head cut off running credit cards & getting receipts for each individual (twice – i might add) they’ll have MORE time to visit with you. If you’re so inclined, when the server comes with your Rail, you can either say “please stay so I can tell you how wonderful your service was and tip you well” or you can say “please take my credit card, run it manually, and PLEASE please please do not steal my cc info … and oh btw … because I’m such a jerk and making your job harder, don’t spit in my food next time I come back”.

      Choice is yours man.

  • Pete

    About time. As someone who has had their credit card number stolen, I appreciate swiping it myself

  • Guest

    Congratulations! I am very impressed with this system. I’ve literally lost count of the number of times a waiter (or “waitron,” as my friend Tony calls them) turned his nose up at my party when we presented a neatly-written spreadsheet comprising the precise amount we expect to be charged to each of our cards. If the waitron is not willing to settle our bill, I suppose we have no choice but to do it ourselves.

  • Guest

    Congratulations! I am very impressed with this system. I’ve literally lost count of the number of times a waiter (or “waitron,” as my friend Tony calls them) turned his nose up at my party when we presented a neatly-written spreadsheet comprising the precise amount we expect to be charged to each of our cards. If the waitron is not willing to settle our bill, I suppose we have no choice but to do it ourselves.

  • Tmerte

    Testing

  • http://wac6.com/ William Carleton

    John, love the video of the demo; what an awesome idea to start doing this in the field. Joe, you’re the same on camera as you are IRL!

  • Leigh

    Keep an eye out for MobileOpEx……

  • Marinatin

    LAME. Already been done. Do your market research. 

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