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Chef Laura: It's hip to be Square

Breaking News: Huey Lewis was a prophet.

In the ‘80’s, not only did he reassure us that the heart of Rock ‘n Roll would not require resuscitation; he also proclaimed it was “hip to be square.” 

How did he know that a little piece of plastic would change the way small businesses get paid?

Square is a dongle – a small piece of hardware that attaches to a computer, smartphone or other electronic device.

Register for the free device, download the app and presto! – you can now accept credit card payments on the go.  No pen?  No problem!  Your customer’s inkless fingertip is all it takes to autograph the screen.

What’s the catch?

Just like you, Square is a business.  And just like you, they want to make a profit.

For every swipe, Square pockets 2.75 percent.  So for a $10 charge, you earn $9.72 and Square takes 28 cents. 

If you need to enter the credit card information manually, Square nabs a bigger cut with the assumed risk; charging you 3.5 percent and 15 cents per transaction.

 Good ideas are like a freshly opened can of Fancy Feast: Here come the copy cats.

There’s Intuit GoPayment– another device with a rate of 1.69 percent and 29 cents per swipe.  Currently, they are waving the monthly fee of $19.95 for the first two months.  But after those sweet 60 days are up, tack on another 20 bucks to your calculations.

The “little blue pill” is to Viagra as the “little blue triangle” is to PayPal Here.  This is another credit card reader, charging 2.7 percent a swipe, backed by the power and speedy transaction time of PayPal.

The latest competitor is Flint.  Their motto:  “The easiest way to accept credit cards on your iPhone."  I think “Excuse me, Sir – your dongle is showing” is a more memorable tagline; but alas, I work in kitchens, not on Madison Ave.

Flint must’ve known the likelihood of busy small business owners’ ability to lose our dongles if they weren’t attached to us.  So they offer a device-free solution.  The downloaded app requires you to take a photo of the credit card.  It quickly analyzes the numbers and gives you the go-ahead to complete the transaction.

Pretty slick, eh?

Well this slickness will cost you 2.95 percent plus 20 cents per swipe.  I’m no Good Will Hunting, but that same $10 charge only earned you $9.50.  I’ll stick with Square until the day you hear me frantically demanding, “Has anyone seen my dongle?!?”

Even if you don’t own your own business, you might want to get yourself a Square to conveniently collect funds.  For example:

  1. “Sorry kid, I’d love to buy your lemonade, but I don’t have any cash on me.”  “No problem, Ma’am,” says your pint-sized entrepreneur.  “We take Visa and MasterCard, and you get to earn miles.”
  2. Does your friend owe you $20 for the Rockies tickets but forgot to go to the ATM?  Just Discover his credit card and you got $19.45 outta the moocher.  That’s like batting an impressive .973.
  3. Selling gift wrap for a school fundraiser, and Grandma wants to write you a check?  Let her save her checks for the express lane at King Soopers and ask Meemaw for her plastic to pay for the paper.
  4. Hosting a yard sale this weekend?  Cash is still king for the ultimate in bartering, but accepting Amex allows you quickly sell your husband’s velvet Elvis. “This will look killer in your Jungle Room,” you say to an impulsive frat boy walking up your driveway.

Just keep in mind, registration requires your Social Security number, so the IRS is watching.  Square gets their cut and Uncle Sam (eventually) gets his.  This is Ye Olde “cost of doing business.”  If it’s any comfort, Prophet Huey doesn’t seem to mind:

“I’m takin’ what they’re givin’ 'cause I’m workin’ for a livin’”...

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Laura Cook Newman

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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