New York cafe finds iPad registers and Square a perfect fit

by Amanda Lucci

December 22 2011

Square hand-picked a New York cafe to test Card Case, its new virtual payment system. A few adjustments later, both businesses found harmony.

Before Café Grumpy owner Caroline Bell installed new cash registers in her coffee shops, she was a walking interpretation of the New York City chain’s ill-tempered title.

“We had a touch screen system,” Bell said of her store’s outdated former cash collector. “It was kind of slow and it was kind of big and the big screen got in the way.”

This proved to be an obstacle for Café Grumpy, a chain of four coffee shops across Manhattan and Brooklyn where the counters are kept clean and low-profile to create an inviting space for baristas to chat casually with customers while the coffee brews.

Using the much sleeker iPad as a register had crossed Bell’s mind before, so when mobile payments startup Square approached her this summer about becoming a launch partner for their new register product, it was an easy sell.

Co-founded by Twitter creator Jack Dorsey, Square, a service that allows users to accept credit card payments with their mobile phones, took off into a billion-dollar business since its inception in 2009.

Square handpicked 50 vendors, including Café Grumpy, to test out its latest venture, Card Case — a sort of virtual payment system that lets regulars set up a “tab" at their favorite venues through their phones. Because Café Grumpy is “a popular destination for locals and has a lot of loyal customers,” it was an ideal place for Square to test out the new software, PR Coordinator Lindsay Wiese told TabTimes.

Inexpensive installation

Bell signed on in July and installed the iPad registers at Café Grumpy’s two Manhattan locations in Chelsea and the Lower East Side.

Initial costs included the iPads — Square is also compatible with iPhones and Android — and relatively inexpensive swivel stands to prop them up ($14.99 each at Brookstone). Add-ons that came later included a cash drawer attached below the counter ($200-$400 each at cashdrawer.com), an optional printer in case customers want a paper receipt ($200-$300 each at starmicronics.com) and connector cables ($8 each).

The actual Square Card Reader itself is free, as is the app used to operate it. Square does, however, charge 2.75 percent per swipe through the Card Reader, or 3.5 percent plus $0.15 per transaction if the card number is entered manually. The per-swipe rate and lack of a binding contract also makes Square practical for freelance work, garage sales or even splitting bills with friends and roommates, Wiese said.

Initial feedback leads to changes in app

At first, adjusting to the new register system disrupted the daily grind at Café Grumpy, said Shinto Imai, a barista at the Chelsea store. The “cumbersome” design of the original Square app made it more difficult for customers to type in tips for the baristas, decreasing their extra earnings. “We were upset,” he said.

But as a launch partner, the Grumpy baristas were able to give feedback directly to Square, which prompted a change in the app. Tips are now getting back to normal, Imai said.

“Most of the feedback we receive aren’t ‘complaints’ per se, but feature ideas — ideas that would help [merchants] run their business even better,” Wiese said. “We are always updating our product and adding new features.”

In addition to the staff’s reluctances, Bell said that some of the café’s card-using customers also had trouble getting used to signing their name on-screen and getting their receipts by email or text.

“Anything you do that changes the daily routine of someone like that is an issue,” she said.

Despite the early difficulties, Bell said the convenience of using Square was worth the hassles of installation and training employees on a new system. By using a service that’s based online, Bell can quickly log on from anywhere to track the day’s sales and inventory.

“When [employees] close out … if anything’s off, I can check online what the sales are,” she said. “So I don’t have boxes and boxes of receipts that I have to hold on to, because it’s all online.”

Regular customers, too, are getting used to the new registers, and many of them now use Square’s Card Case to get their caffeine fix even quicker. Though Bell hasn’t seen a significant increase in sales after turning to Square and Card Case, she and her employees have noticed a surge in social media buzz since the register change — Imai called it “fanfare.”

“Sometimes you get people that are interested in new technology and stuff and they’ll tweet about it and think it’s cool, or tell their friends,” Bell said. “…I think it’s still kind of a newer thing to see, so I think that maybe attracts some people who are into that stuff.”

And satisfied customers make satisfied employees, turning Café Grumpy into a much happier place after all.

“People are excited about it,” Imai said of the iPads. “It’s a good move.”

Amanda Lucci is a New York based writer. Follow her on Twitter at @alucci
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