What is a PDQ machine and how do they work?

Get ready to supercharge your business with PDQ machines! They're not just handy gadgets; they're your ticket to seamless transactions and happy customers. Learn all about PDQs - from how they work to the different types available. With these nifty devices by your side, you'll breeze through sales.

Your guide to PDQ machines

PDQ machines are nifty devices used by a range of small businesses. Ultimately, they serve as a flexible card payment solution that can handle most payment methods - pretty much!

You’ll need to decide which type will best suit your business first. To help with that, we’ll take you through the different PDQ terminals available to choose from.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

● PDQ machine meaning

● How they work

● Types of PDQ machines

● Benefits for your business

Let’s get started.

What is a PDQ machine?

PDQ is short for ‘Process Data Quickly’, although many referred to it as ‘pretty damn quick’ when they were first introduced.  It’s just another name for a card machine. You might also see them referred to as Chip & PIN machines or card readers - all essentially the same thing.

With a PDQ machine, you can take credit and debit card payments from customers. It's quick, easy, handy, and secure.

But this wasn’t always the case…

Introduction of the Chip & PIN

Modern PDQ machines have evolved out of necessity. When they were first rolled out (way back in 1979), they relied on the card’s magnetic stripe for years.

Customers would swipe their card, wait for a receipt, and then sign it to authorise the payment. Staff would then compare their signature to the one on the back of their card to clear the transaction. Quite a hassle, and not particularly secure.

If your card was lost or was stolen, anyone that had it could commit credit or debit card fraud relatively easily, providing they could copy your signature.

In 2004, banks collectively hailed the introduction of Chip & PIN cards, embedding cards with a microchip to improve security for consumers. By 2006, the rollout of these was mandatory.

How do PDQ machines work?

With modern PDQ machines, you typically have the choice of two payment options.

Choose between:

●  Chip & PIN

●  Contactless (debit, credit, or a digital wallet)

And how the card reader works is similar across both payment methods.

On the provider's end, the customer will either have the correct funds in their bank account or they will not. If they do, the funds will be sent to your merchant account first where they’ll be held for a ‘settlement period’.

During this time, the bank will carry out fraud checks and monitor for anything suspicious before releasing the funds. The money, when the bank is satisfied, then gets moved from your merchant account and into your business bank account.

Settlement period explained: This period marks the delay between a payment being processed and the funds being cleared. It is a predetermined time - you can usually expect 3-5 working days, though as quick as 24 hours or longer can be agreed, depending on the provider.

Types of PDQ machines for small businesses

You’ll have the choice of three main types of PDQ machine:

● Countertop card machines: These will connect directly with your POS system using an Ethernet cable or phone. They sit in a designated area (typically the counter, as you’d expect) and are the most common PDQ. You’ll no doubt have seen them at takeaways, retail shops, and petrol stations.

● Portable card machines: These terminals work similarly to countertop terminals - however, they connect using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Through this connection, they’ll have a restricted range so are portable but within your business premises. They’re particularly common in restaurants and cafes.

● Mobile GPRS card machines: These terminals are wireless and use the internet (either Wi-Fi or data from your business mobile) to process transactions. They’re the most versatile of PDQs. They’re the type you typically see in taxis and food trucks, as well as at trade shows and outdoor events.

Smart terminals: These terminals are the latest in payment technology. These devices are Android-based and feature a large touchscreen. Similar to mobile terminals, you’ll have multiple connectivity methods (WiFi + 4G), as well as additional software options to ease the running of your business.

Benefits of a PDQ card terminal

PDQ machines for small businesses are an absolute must-have - especially if you’re selling to consumers. Quick as a whip to process transactions and inexpensive to purchase, they are a core part of any business.


PDQ machines can’t process transactions without the bank’s additional checks and remote authorisation, making them secure for both yourself and your customers. With less cash on site also, there’s less risk of theft.

Flexible payment solutions

With the popularity of card payments rising to 85% of money spent in 2023, an on-site PDQ terminal of some kind is expected. Most PDQs accept all major credit and debit cards, so serve as a versatile and convenient payment solution.

Instant connection

PDQ terminals process payments within seconds (providing there’s no user error). If you’re a popular vendor that anticipates peak hours - like a food truck or city centre store during the lunch rush - these nifty machines help you to quickly process more sales and keep queues moving.

Ready to set up payments with Clear Business?

Whether you run a bustling café, a boutique, or a thriving salon, we've got you covered. We offer a range of payment terminals tailored to your needs.

Our dedicated team is here to guide you every step of the way. If it’s time to upgrade your POS system or you’re looking for card payment support, we’d be happy to talk. Need a quote? No problem! Just reach out, and we'll get the ball rolling.

Customer purchasing coffee with contactless payment

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