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[November 07, 2012]


Nov 06, 2012 (Skagit Valley Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- When Carlos Carreon opened Calle Tacos -- Tequila in downtown Mount Vernon last November, he wanted it to be a new, fresh take on the Mexican restaurant -- right down to the ordering and payment systems.

With a few applications running on a totally wireless system, he has done just that, giving co-owner Carreon more freedom to run his operation while saving money and making employees less stressed -- and more efficient -- in the process.

Carreon said his restaurant was possibly the first north of Seattle to start using Ambur, a point-of-sales application operating through a collection of restaurant iPads, iPhones and employees' smart devices.

But Calle isn't the only Skagit County business catching on to the benefits of smartphone and tablet-run sales systems.

Cathy Adelman, owner of The Lunch Box in downtown Mount Vernon, has been using the payment-accepting application Square on her tablet computer since April and has recorded about 1 percent total savings over using a typical card-reader leased from a bank.

"It may not sound like much, but that's a pretty substantial savings," Adelman said.

Meanwhile, Ron Farrell, coordinator of the Mount Vernon Farmers Market, said he has seen more market vendors using smart-deviceoperated payment systems within the last few years. Considering the connection limitations of the market's venue and a societal movement away from cash-carrying, Farrell said those vendors are reaping the benefits of increased efficiency.

For small-business owners who demand nimble and lean operations, mobile operating and payment systems offer some distinct advantages over the conventional kind.

Calle Tacos Carreon installed the $1,800 Ambur point-of-sale system in his restaurant only seven months after it hit the market, according to the Ambur website. He bought a few wireless devices and printers to get the system rolling, then got down to business.

Waiters take orders at tables with their devices, which send those orders instantly to the bar and kitchen for preparation. Ambur collects information on what items are hot sellers and times during the week that are busiest, and lets Carreon change menu items with a few touches of a screen, instead of calling in a programmer.

"You always had to rely on a programmer to change major things on your menu," Carreon said. "You had to call in support. On this, you can do all of that yourself. It's very user friendly." Another handy aspect is the system's ability to split checks and items among any number of people at a table, said waitress Tory Peck.

"If you are busy, instead of having to bust out a calculator and split a check multiple ways, it's just tap-tap-tap, and it does all the work for you," Peck said. "It absolutely saves you time, and you can be more efficient." Carreon said the Ambur system has saved him approximately $7,000 over a conventional point-of-sale system, not counting mobile devices or wireless printers.

At the end of a meal, Calle employees use an application called Square to accept card payments. Waiters swipe cards directly onto the restaurant's iPads, and customers sign a line on the screen to accept payments.

A receipt can be printed out for customers, emailed or texted to them, and Carreon said the electronic forms are gaining popularity.

"Like a lot of people, I think, I didn't like getting paper receipts. They stuff my wallet," Carreon said.

The Lunch Box Adelman said she started using Square -- a free-todownload application that includes a small credit card swiper that plugs into headphone jacks -- after her son introduced her to it.

She said a big advantage of the application for charge cards is that it charges a flat 2.75 percent fee to every order instead of having a 20-cent swipe fee and 1.75 percentage taken from transactions.

Adelman said she likes how the application's charge is taken off the top, instead of having a large, unanticipated sum taken out of her account at the end of every month.

"I never get a bill from them, because they've got their money before I get mine," she said. "And I like that because it's so convenient." Adelman said once customers warmed up to signing with their fingers, and after she dispelled some worries about security, the program caught on with her clientele.

However, Adelman hasn't stopped using her traditional system entirely. She said with orders $18 and above, it is less expensive to use the old system, and keeps it as a backup if she loses wireless connectivity.

MV Farmers Market Tablet-and phone-based systems also can be useful to mobile vendors, including some operating at the Mount Vernon Farmers Market.

Ferrell said about five of the market's 35 vendors use a Square-type system to charge customers.

Currently, customers without cash can swipe their card at a kiosk for, say, $20, which is given to them in wooden nickles to spend with vendors. The problem is accounting for those nickles at the end of the day.

"Sending out tokens and having them come back from 35 different vendors at once becomes a bookkeeping burden," Farrell said.

Farrell said the mobile readers are catching on because customers generally don't want to go three or four blocks to the nearest ATM, but the lack of internet and power connections has made installing traditional card-reading machines at the market tough.

Moving forward Carreon said the success of Ambur and Square has led all three restaurants owned by his family to switch from more conventional systems, and four planned restaurants should follow suit.

He's also poised to start using a new application for customers, which allows them to pay with their phones and gives them rewards at no cost to his business.

"It has given us the new factor, the wow factor. We even charge differently." Carreon said of his establishment's cutting-edge technology.

"I do believe that it sets us apart from other restaurants." Mark Stayton can be reached at 360-416-2112 or mstayton@skagitpublishing. com, Follow him at Twitter. com/biz_svh.

___ (c)2012 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.) Visit the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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