First Data makes another bet on restaurant software

Key Points
  • Troves of customer data can be extracted from point-of-sale terminals and can guide restaurants in tracking what you have previously ordered, how much you have spent, or how long you dined at the table.
  • Start-up Salido builds and sells POS hardware and software.
  • It has fielded interest from First Data, although the talks were previously unreported.
  • One of First Data's biggest competitors, Square, just announced its own play for restaurant services.

First Data, one of the world's largest payment processing companies, is betting that restaurants want more data on their customers.

Salido, a restaurant software company, recently raised $12 million in a Series A round of funding with First Data among the major investors. First Data was initially interested in acquiring the start-up, but chose to participate in a funding round instead, Salido CEO Shu Chowdhury confirmed to CNBC.

First Data declined a request for comment on its interest in Salido, which was previously unreported. But Salido is just one example of how technology companies like First Data are racing to reinvent restaurant payment systems as portals to a valuable data source.

Salido builds and sells point-of-sale hardware and software. POS terminals record orders on a tablet or mobile devices and accept payments with a connected card reader. The devices can act as the "brain" of a restaurant — handling logistics like keeping tabs on inventory and managing servers or chefs in the kitchen.

Troves of customer data can be extracted from the terminals, too. With a swipe of your credit card, the system has a name and an account number. With that, it can guide restaurants in tracking what you have previously ordered, how much you have spent or how long you dined at the table.

"Data can help restaurants understand what they are selling, how they should be selling it, and how they should be treating their customer," Chowdhury said.

Since 2012, First Data has had its own POS device, Clover, which processes customer payments and analyzes sales. Now, the global volume of transactions processed via Clover's technology amounts to about $58 billion annually, First Data CEO Frank Bisignano said on the company's most recent earnings conference call. Salido's technology will be fully integrated with some Clover products by the end of this year, Chowdhury said.

Square to launch new payment system for restaurants.
Source: Square

One of First Data's biggest competitors, Square, just announced its own play for restaurant services. Square for Restaurants, its fourth POS product, integrates its delivery service Caviar, which Square acquired in 2014. Analysts have previously called for an integration that could bridge the gap between the delivery service and its POS software.

Thanks to transaction-based data collection on platforms like Salido's, restaurants are able to suggest new menu items based on what you have previously ordered.

Tom Colicchio, who owns a group of restaurants that use Salido's technology, focuses on trends, not necessarily individual data. When Wichcraft debuts a new sandwich, Colicchio can see how the new menu item is performing across the eatery's different locations.

Tom Colicchio, Craft Restaurants owner, discusses his transition from head chef to successful business owner and the future of fast casual dining.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

"It's good to have data in terms of what we're selling and where we're selling. Then we can match that to the individuals in each store," Colicchio said.

Salido has raised $16 million in total funding to date and touts chefs like Colicchio and Stephen Starr, as well as Uber's former top New York executive, Josh Mohrer, among its backers. Salido's technology, designed for fast casual and sit-down restaurants like New York-based Eataly and by CHLOE, also assists businesses in taking orders from third-party delivery platforms and tracks the status of in-restaurant orders. Chowdhury, who founded the company in 2012, takes the services one step further by helping owners really get to know their diners with big data.

With more access to data, the restaurant industry — notorious for razor-thin margins — sees an opportunity. Owners can use the information to predict what to serve and when. In the past, restaurateurs used trends they noticed in passing, or simply common sense, to predict business. Now they have the numbers to back it up.

"Restaurants are always looking for an edge," said Mohrer, who participated in Salido's most recent funding round alongside his former colleague at Uber, William Barnes, who ran the company's West Coast operations. "Here's an opportunity to get to know the customer better."

Customers may not mind data collection, particularly if it means a better or faster ordering experience. Other customers, however, may be wary. Big data has come under fire in recent weeks, after millions of Facebook users' data was exposed to Cambridge Analytica, a third-party consulting firm.

"We tell our restaurants to be mindful of that creepiness factor" and only collect and keep what they need, said Laura Chadwick, director of commerce and entrepreneurship at the National Restaurant Association, a food industry trade organization that represents more than 350,000 restaurants.

"There is an undefined line where data collection becomes too much," Chadwick said.

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Correction: Square for Restaurants is Square's fourth point-of-sale product. An earlier version of this story misstated the number of products.