At most restaurants, when the time comes to pay the check, you hand over your credit card and a waiter you’ve known for only about an hour takes off with your credit card. You trust that the waiter will only charge your meal and won’t make off with your card number. But if you ever have been to a Legal Sea Foods restaurant, you will notice that the waiter brings a handheld electronic device to your table to swipe your credit card when you are ready to pay the bill. The credit card never leaves the customer’s sight.
The recent experiences of customers at certain high-end steakhouses show why all restaurants should consider adopting the table-side charge method. Seven waiters at Smith & Wollensky’s, the Capital Grille, and other high-end restaurants were arrested along with many other co-conspirators, for copying the credit card numbers of restaurant customers with handheld, high-tech “skimmers” and then using those numbers to buy luxury goods that they resold. The waiters targeted credit cards with high or no spending limits so that big purchases would not be flagged.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) quick reference guide for merchants does not provide any clear guidelines for card handling. Nevertheless, this incident should serve as a wakeup call for all restaurants to adopt table-side systems to reduce the potention for misuse of customer credit cards. It also serves as a reminder to anyone dealing with sensitive information to continually review handling procedures and processes and look for ways transmissions can be made more secure.