Square has introduced a new self-serve ordering feature for restaurants that allows dine-in customers to order and pay for their food through their phones, minimizing physical contact with staff.

The restaurant industry has been among the hardest hit by the global pandemic, though this has led to a surge in demand for meal deliveries. As the world eases out of lockdown, brick-and-mortar eateries have embraced technology as a way to entice customers back through their doors — the humble QR code has proved particularly popular, with many outlets turning to the matrix barcode format to deliver menus directly to customers’ mobile devices.

In this vein, Jack Dorsey’s Square, which is perhaps better known for its point-of-sale (POS) system that allows merchants to accept card payments through a smartphone or tablet, has been expanding and adapting its services to this “new normal.” Merchants that are signed up to Square Online, Square’s ecommerce offering, can now create QR codes and place them at tables or booths. Using the camera on their phones, customers scan the QR code and the menu opens on their device, where they can select items and pay in one fell swoop.

This is different from other third-party QR-related services that simply direct customers to an online menu or website. Indeed, each Square QR code is linked to a specific table or collection area — this helps restaurant staff know exactly where a customer is located.


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Above: Square’s new self-serve feature limits contact between diner and merchant.

Although Square’s new self-serve tool is designed primarily to reduce contact between the buyer and seller, it should also bring additional efficiencies by reducing waiting times. Diners no longer have to hang around for someone to serve them or bring the check — everything is done in a single transaction initiated entirely by the customer.

However, one potential downside here lies in tipping — normally, a diner would prefer to tip after they have received service. With this system, the entire payment is taken in advance, leaving consumers in a dilemma about how much they should (or shouldn’t) tip.

This launch comes just a few months after PayPal launched QR code payments in 28 markets globally, in a move that further extended PayPal’s reach beyond its traditional focus on online payments. In contrast, Square has increasingly been moving into the online sphere from its brick-and-mortar roots, so it has been interesting to see the paths each company has taken toward covering “all bases.” Back in May, Square rolled out a new online checkout designed to help small businesses looking to rapidly transition to ecommerce, enabling them to accept online card payments through any website, social media profile, messaging app, or SMS.

Both PayPal and Square’s shares have hit all-time highs in the past month, which is testament to the surge in demand for digital payment services.

Square’s self-serve ordering is available now for sellers in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia.

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