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.