Insights & Opinions

How a traditional mercado transforms the payments experience in Mechelen

Mon, 22 Apr 2019

Rik Coeckelbergs Founder & Event Organizer The Banking Scene

For those who don’t know Mechelen: this is my home town. It is a small city in Belgium, right in between Brussels and Antwerp. These days, its colourful history makes of Mechelen a hotspot for tourists.

Dear tourists: we have good news!

Mechelen has a new attraction: De Vleeshalle — a Mercado, an indoor food market. I am not a food critic, so don’t expect too many reviews on the food in this blog. Something else that caught my attention that is worth blogging about, in the context of digital payments this time.

Vleeshalle middelgroot

De Vleeshalle is no cash

I think it’s the first time that I saw a message like this near a point-of-sale in Belgium. In some countries it is more common already, like in the Netherlands, some hipster areas in USA and a few other countries, but in Belgium… not sure where you can find such explicit ‘no cash’ zones with such a diversity of products.

Vleeshalle no cash correctie

In De Vleeshalle you can only pay by card or Bancontact Mobile. That helps to provide a faster service and to avoid the hassle of exchange so merchants can focus all their attention to the lovely food and drinks. With app like Payconiq by Bancontact or Splitwise you can easily split bills and take note of who already paid a round.

They are setting a new standard of how merchants steer consumer behaviour. They simply push consumers to their own preferred payment methods, instead of the other way around.

There are many more reasons to have everything in an electronic manner in areas like this. The first I think of is a better management of the different food bars for example. Suppose they work on commission, this is the way to avoid any abuse or black money (note: I don’t know if they work on a commission!).

One remark through: we also saw one guy trying to order with cash and he was refused. He said not to have a bank. Those people are unfortunately excluded from this kind of facilities.

Maybe a small second: a pity they promote the American Splitwise, while in Belgium we have our own Tricount to be proud of.

De Vleeshalle allows you to order online

You have many apps that tried it before, but really using it in a restaurant or bar? I am not talking about home delivery here, but going out to eat, and order the meal online, once you are there? This is new to me. So you are in the middle of all these food bars, and they promote the following:

De Vleeshalle Online orders

Are you one of those people who hate queuing, like me? This is perfect. You order online, you pay online and you wait with a beer until you get an sms and you go.

Belgians are used to being served when it comes to food. In this context, I think it makes perfect sense: people do not expect to be served, you queue, you get the quick bite, you pay and you go. What is the most painful element in this process?

Right: queuing, especially at food stands or good quality, where not everything it prepared. I simply avoid food markets because of this. The best kitchen have the longest queues! I hate it.

Ordering online is in this case simply an asset! Especially if you get an sms when the food is ready.

De Vleeshalle have a prepaid Wine Card for their suggestion wines

This is probably the greatest thing I discovered: they have a prepaid card.

I hear you thinking already: wait… he is into prepaid cards now?

Wijnkaart a

Well, it is not the prepaid card itself that excited me, it is the whole experience around the prepaid card. It simply feels like the prepaid card is the right means to an end.

At the bar they have 16 suggestion wines. These are only ordered through self service. They cannot be ordered at the bar. That is right: probably the best wines they have cannot be ordered at the bar.

These wines require a prepaid card. This triggered our attention. Why would you do this with the dull prepaid card? We bought a card and did the test.

It is as simple as it looks like. You buy the card (and pay by card) for 2€, and a prepaid amount of 25€ or 50€. You get a chipped prepaid card of De Vleeshalle and you can start servicing yourself.

De Vleeshalle selftap

As you can see on the photo here, this is perfect for tasting, since you can pour yourself and choose the amount of wine you desire: 3, 6 or 12cl. That also explains why they made it 100% self-service I guess:

  • low volumes = low margins
  • closed loop prepaid = low transaction costs

Because it all makes so much sense, you don’t get suspicious of all this. The experience is just right. This self-service pleased us much more compared to ordering drink at the bar:

  • the wines are always at a perfect temperature, since they are in a refrigerator, and they stay there while serving
  • it is fast: you insert the card, it shows how much money you have left on your account and you select the wine and the amount of wine you like
  • when ordering a wine, you do not just select based on the name, but you can see the bottle as well
  • you can taste different wines at your own pace, since you have not ordered a tasting selection. There is no risk that wines are warming up. After you taste one wine, you can go back for another
  • we were one of the few who had this card, so there were no other customers waiting at the tap


De Vleeshalle achieved to avoid all my personal drawbacks of a traditional food festival: you can pay electronically, no need to buy coupons, no queueing, excellent food and wines, which you can even pour yourself!

I hope they set the scene for many more similar initiatives!

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