If you can't afford the exotic vacations touted in all the credit card commercials, you can at least give your card a little fresh air by trotting it down to Dan's Foods or Arby's Roast Beef Restaurants.
Dan's Foods Inc. began accepting credit cards in its grocery lines earlier this month. Arby's announced this week that company-owned stores in many regions - including Utah - will begin accepting credit cards Nov. 1. The announcement affects 21 Arby's stores in Utah.Taking your credit card to Dan's won't be as thrilling as using it on the coast of Australia, but it will be almost as unusual. "We were third or fourth in the nation to go to credit cards in grocery lanes," said Ted Gardiner, executive vice president for Dan's.
Are Dan's and Arby's part of a national trend?
Yes, said Michael Levitt, senior vice president in charge of merchant sales for Discover Card. "I think two years from now a grocery store that does not accept credit cards will stand out as an exception. We are seeing them sign contracts and come on line almost faster than we can count them."
Jeff Smith, chairman of Smith's Food & Drug Centers, doesn't see a trend here. "I think the majority of grocery stores won't take credit cards. Those with higher gross margins can take credit cards, but those who operate on low, everyday pricing programs can't do it."
Smith's won't accept credit cards because it would have to pass the bank charge - between 1 and 3 percent - on to the customer in higher prices, Smith said. Financial institutions charge businesses for the cost of processing credit card purchases."Ultimately, that will get tacked onto the price of the food," said Stan Knoles, franchisee of three Salt Lake McDonald's Restaurants.
"I disagree," Gardiner said. Dan's tested the use of credit cards in two pilot stores for three months. "The amount we will pay to banks will be more than made up in our reduced bad-check losses and the increased business we get from people who spend $30 instead of $15 because they are using their card," Gardiner said.
That's the lure of credit cards. "A credit card sale is about 70 to 80 percent bigger than a traditional cash sale in a grocery store," Levitt said. "When people use their credit cards for groceries, they have a tendancy to buy their groceries all at once instead of making 10 different trips to the grocery store for small items." Discover Card helped Dan's get its credit card system on line. Arby's married MasterCard to produce its bank card program - the first national program in the fast-food industry.
Dan's is pleased with its program. "The feedback is excellent. People love it. It is actually quicker than writing a check out," Gardiner said, although credit verification machines take up to 20 seconds to verify a credit card.
Fast-food chains worry about speed. "It takes a lot of time to process a card," Knoles said. "A person has to stop and sign it, then I have to run it through a machine and wait on computers. If you hand me cash, I can have your food ready and waiting in very short order."
Besides, "I question whether people are really ready to increase their consumer debt by using their credit card for lunch breaks," Knoles said.
Levitt believes they are. "If I take my wife and two children out to a McDonald's or a Burger King, I may spend $25 for a meal. I might have to think about that if it is a cash transaction," Levitt said. "But I might not be deterred from doing it if I know I can use my credit card there."
For both fast food and grocery business, "The potential exists to get a larger average transaction if credit cards are accepted," Levitt said.
That's exactly what businesses have in mind.