Curtis Osmond, president of III Forks Prime Steakhouse, has been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years, and he can’t remember that much attention was paid to how people pay for their meals.
“It’s pretty remarkable to think there’s so much focus on how people pay, and we’re thrilled to be at the forefront of a conversation like this,” said said Osmond.
So what is all the buzz around III Forks about?
The steakhouse location in Austin accepts cryptocurrency, and it’s no gimmick. III Forks is fully committed to providing our customers with alternative ways to pay for their food.
“I don’t care if you walk in and pay with an American Express or Visa or Mastercard,” Osmond says. “I don’t care if you walk in and pay with Bitcoin or another currency. We’re taking the way you pay to another level, and we want to make sure it’s unique for you.
Osmond knew the idea was worth investigating once several customers started asking for it. Additionally, several bitcoin-related businesses have opened in the market.
The company took these two trends as a sign.
“After having to say no [to customers] a few times we asked ourselves “why can’t we take bitcoin?” says Brian Kelley, owner of the Austin restaurant. “Because people want to pay in Bitcoin. So we tried to find a way to say yes to guests.”
Conversations around Bitcoin started last year around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Osmond and Kelly wanted to complete their due diligence on cryptocurrency; while several major brands ran promotions associated with the digital product, there weren’t many precedents where restaurants accepted it as payment for menu items.
One of the main concerns is the volatile nature. There are hundreds of coins and tokens in the crypto market, and their value against the US dollar can fluctuate significantly over the course of a day.
This challenge is not lost on Kelley or Osmond. In fact, one of the first questions asked was “what happens when the value of Bitcoin drops?”
“It’s definitely something we’ve talked about,” Osmond said.
To circumvent this problem, Osmond and Kelley found a novel solution to a modern-day problem. Instead of depositing Bitcoins into a III Forks digital wallet (all crypto is stored in digital wallets), the brand partnered with Bitpay and the Lightning Network, allowing the restaurant to immediately convert customers’ Bitcoins into US dollars. .
While III Forks takes bitcoin as payment, it never actually holds any cryptocurrencyremoving its exposure to unexpected declines.
“That’s the good part from an accounting standpoint,” Osmond said.
Inside the restaurant, the process is quite simple. Customers inform their server at checkout that they wish to pay with Bitcoin, and the III Forks team presents them with a Bitpay invoice QR code to scan next to the table. These transactions settle in seconds and allow seamless payment using the guest’s preferred crypto wallet.
“We provide convenience, we provide options, and we also provide transaction security and privacy,” Kelley said. “We just try to give our customers what they want.”
In addition to providing volatility protection, Bitpay and the Lightning Network prevent III Forks from paying credit card processing fees.
“Would a $10 million restaurant want to save $300,000 a year on credit card fees?” Osmond says rhetorically.
The bitcoin strategy has only been in place for several weeks, but Kelley says clients are already using the option and providing “wonderful” feedback, many of them “not your typical bitcoin user.”
III Forks doesn’t use Bitcoin as a marketing ploy, but it doesn’t shy away from extra media attention either. Osmond says people are curious and that leads to good conversations.
One of the reasons Osmond and Kelley invested in the new payment program is for the customizable customer experience, similar to online ordering, contactless delivery or a loyalty program.
“Over the past two years, we’ve been forced to operate in a new and different environment,” says Osmond. “It’s more important to be relational in nature than transactional. So we want to organize an experience that allows people to discover our restaurant in a unique way every time.
As III Forks continues to accept Bitcoin, Osmond and Kelley will keep an eye on the program, adjusting it over time. If it continues to be successful with customers, the steakhouse will consider adding the equipment to its other units in Dallas and Jacksonville.
III Forks locations will take preference over its sister concepts under the Consolidated Restaurant Operations umbrella, which includes Cantina Laredo, El Chico, Silver Fox, Luckys Cafe, Cool River, Black Oak Grill and Good Eats.
“We’ve made it our mission to take elements that are successful in certain aspects of our business and then apply them to other concepts,” says Osmond. “We’re looking to glean all the positives from the test in Austin.”
Osmond isn’t sure if Bitcoin will break out in the near term, but he’s confident that’s where the market is heading. With brands prioritizing customer experience and technology enabling risk-free transactions, he says the writing is on the wall.
“I think the incentive is pretty clear,” he says. “We would much rather be the first to do this than the last.”