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Posted: June 13, 2013

Chef Laura: It’s hip to be Square

How did Huey know?

Laura Cook Newman

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’”...

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

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Readers Respond

Mr. Froman, like you, I also prefer cash - so I hear your longing for the paper transactions of yesteryear. My hopes is that as a society we can do away with checks. And pennies. Vicki, I didn't know about the bank fees. I haven;t seen any on my statement...yet. Nordstrom has be doing the "email your receipt?" option for years now. Looks like other retailers are catching on. And I'm happy to hear that HL&TN; is still relevant - the heart of rock n roll IS still beating! By Chef Laura on 2013 06 17
My mongrel ate my dongle....Hey, what can I say? He was money hungry. By Pamsclams on 2013 06 13
Huey Lewis and the News was one of the most under-rated bands! They churned out some fantastic songs. I don't know much about credit cards, except that I have many and love to go shopping w/my hubby's money. By Sidney Conroy on 2013 06 13
Chief, one of the nice things I've noticed about paying for things with Square is that I get an email of my receipt. Makes for less paper and easier tracking of expenses. Unrelated to Square but along that line is Home Depot will now email you a receipt. I'm betting we will see this option increase significantly in the next few years for most merchants. By I don't like Paper on 2013 06 13
I bet that kid who wanted his $2 from Lane Meyer would have killed to have a Square. By Johnny Gasparini on 2013 06 13
Thanks for the YouTube link. Love HL & TN. And guess what? They're on tour this summer. 30th anniversary of "Sports". Gotta get back in time! By Marty McFly on 2013 06 13
Chef Laura, I look forward to Thursday mornings, because I can read your article. This morning I was once again, entertained by your clever and apt humor, while learning something new. Thanks for another great article. By kiki on 2013 06 13
It's also pertinent to note that where you get your "square" can increase your costs. Most banks charge a one-time fee for their squares - I just helped a client set one up thru his bank and his fee was almost $200. Some also have 1 or 2 year contracts, great if you're having a yard sale every week, but.... As they say, the devil is in the details. By Vicki on 2013 06 13
Squares and dongles? I became the Sausage King of Chicago with cash sales at the corner pushcart. Call me an old geezer, but I prefer to have a fat money clip than to use plastic for spur of the moment purchases. If you can't pay for it on the spot, you can't get it. If this generation learned that lesson there would be a lot less debt and the credit card companies wouldn't be getting so rich. I think we should go back to the old practice of gas stations: higher rate for credit and a lower price for cash. I'm off to look for a 25 cent candy bar now. By Abe Froman on 2013 06 13
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