A credit card in a wallet.
A credit card in a wallet. - 
Listen To The Story

KAI RYSSDAL: It's a rare trip to a restaurant these days where people actually plunk down cold, hard cash. Anything over about 20 bucks usually brings out the plastic.

Credit card use is up at most retailers — including the nearly 1 million restaurants in this country. And in an age where identity theft is rampant, pressure's rising to make using those credit cards safer. Marketplace's Lisa Napoli reports one restaurant chain announced today how it plans to do that.

LISA NAPOLI: Forget what's on the menu. Tennessee-based Ruby Tuesday says it'll soon be serving up encrypted data at its 900 restaurants. By the end of April, the chain says it'll have installed credit card systems that will chew up your personal information without a trace after sending it for processing.

Identity theft expert Bob Sullivan says it's about time.

BOB SULLIVAN: The fact that they're encrypting their data, I mean, holy cow, it's 2007. I mean, haven't we been talking about this for years now? And at this point, you know, when someone leaks a million credit cards, it's not even news.

Digital security breaches may seem like old news, but they are potentially a big problem for retailers. They're under pressure by lawmakers and credit card companies alike to do a better job of securing consumer data. That's in an age where identity theft costs us $56 billion a year.

Bob Sullivan says restaurants are the perfect venues for such crimes.

SULLIVAN: It's like the only time in your life when you have to hand your credit card to someone who walks away and can't see what they do with it.

Which is why some people think what Ruby Tuesday is doing only attacks part of the problem.

Ben Popken of the blog Consumerist.com says he likes that several other restaurant chains are working on bringing the credit card device right to the dining table.

BEN POPKEN: Taking out the human element cause that's, you know, that's where the con man thrives.

The fear of being swindled doesn't seem to keep any of us from eating out. We're expected to spend $537 billion in restaurants this year alone.

In Los Angeles, I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.