What is a PDQ machine and how do they work?

Heard the term ‘PDQ’ but not sure what it means? You’ve come to the right place. Read on to find out what a PDQ machine is, how it works and, most importantly, what it can do for your business.

What is a PDQ machine?

What is a PDQ machine?

A PDQ machine is just another name for a card machine – a device that lets you process payments from your customers made by debit and credit card and digital wallets like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

PDQs are a development from the original card machines, which required employees to match a customer’s signature with that on the back of their card in order to authorise a payment.

With a PDQ machine, employees don’t have to match signatures.

A customer pays simply by inserting their card into the PDQ machine and entering their PIN - or by using contactless payments.

Whether you’re a small independent market trader, a high street retailer, or a large supermarket with multiple pay points, a PDQ machine can help you take payments more efficiently, and safely.

With more of your customers turning to card payments and digital wallets, now is the time to make sure you have a payment system and PDQ machine that meets their expectations.

What does PDQ machine stand for?

PDQ stands for Process Data Quickly. A PDQ machine is also sometimes referred to as a Point of Sale (POS) terminal or card reader, but most commonly as a card machine. As the name suggests, it allows businesses to take
customer card payments for their goods or services quickly and easily.

How do PDQ machines work?

A PDQ machine lets you take payments in one of two ways:

  • Chip & PIN
  • Contactless (either debit or credit cards, or through digital wallets)

For both types of payments the process is very simple, and relatively similar:

Taking payments through Chip and PIN with a PDQ machine:

You can process transactions using a PDQ machine by following these four simple steps:

  1. Ask your customer to slot their credit or debit card into the PDQ machine and enter their PIN
  2. A request for approval of the payment will automatically be sent to the customer’s card provider (e.g. NatWest)
  3. Once the transaction is approved, the funds will be sent from the card provider to your merchant account
  4. After a predetermined number of days, known as the ‘settlement period’, the money will be moved from your merchant account to your business bank account

Taking payments via contactless with a PDQ machine:

To accept contactless payments through debit or credit cards, or with digital wallets, the process is:

  1. Your customer taps their card or mobile device against your compatible PDQ machine
  2. The approval request is sent to the customer’s card provider, which checks the customer has the funds to clear the transaction
  3. If the customer has the funds, the transaction is approved and the money is transferred into your merchant account
  4. If the customer doesn’t have the funds, the transaction will be declined
  5. For approved transactions, the funds will be transferred from your merchant account into your business’ bank account - this can be as quickly as 24 hours.

On some occasions, a customer trying to pay through contactless on your PDQ machine may be asked to enter their PIN number instead. This is simply a security precaution that occurs once the customer has reached a certain collective amount on their contactless transactions.

How do PDQ machines work?

What are the benefits of using a PDQ machine?

What are the benefits of using a PDQ machine?

UK consumers spend about £13.6bn a month using contactless card transactions, amounting to 855m transactions every month.

Using a PDQ machine can help your business take advantage of more customers turning to cards and digital wallets to make payments.

There are several benefits to using a PDQ machine in your business, including:

Increased security 

No need to keep large amounts of cash on your premises, plus you can benefit from the built-in security features of card payments.

You’ll also reduce the chances of accepting fraudulent cash.

Less chance of human error

Taking more card payments means it’s likely you’ll have fewer cash-related errors


Card payments are quick and easy (particularly when contactless) so save time for both you and your customers

Improved brand reputation

Businesses that take card payments are often perceived as more trustworthy by consumers

More sales potential

A PDQ machine will allow you to process transactions from a wider (non-cash paying) audience

Meet your customers’ expectations

With more customers wanting to pay using their card or smart device, you need to provide a payment system that matches the way they want to pay. Expecting them to pay how you want will only drive them towards the competition.

Create safer payments

Every authorised payment using a PDQ machine creates a transparent audit trail of the payment so you know exactly how many transactions you’ve processed and how much money you’ve taken.

Types of PDQ machines

There are many different styles of PDQ machine to choose from, including:

  • Countertop
  • Mobile
  • Portable
  • Countertop

Here’s a bit more detail about each of them, including what type of business they can benefit and why.

Types of PDQ machines

Countertop PDQ machine

When it comes to traditional face-to-face payments, countertop terminals are great for businesses with a fixed sales point or location, like shops, retailers and supermarkets. They usually sit next to the till and can’t be moved around the premises like mobile and portable models, but they don’t tend to take up too much room. As they stay plugged in, you don’t need to worry about running out of battery.

Mobile PDQ machine

Often pocket-sized, mobile PDQ machines are by their nature perfect to use on-the-go. You don’t need a fixed till, but you do need a mobile signal or GPRS to process payment. Most mobile terminals come equipped with a ‘roaming’ SIM card, which connects to the strongest mobile network available when you’re accepting payments. They’re particularly handy for events, pop-up shops and even customer’s homes. Just don’t forget to charge them.

Portable PDQ machine

Also known as wireless Chip and PIN machines, portable PDQ terminals work in a similar way to countertop styles. But instead of being physically connected to your till, they process transactions via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This makes them ideal for restaurants, cafes and takeaways, where it can be useful to take the PDQ machine directly to your customers. That way, they don’t need to get up until they want to leave, and you can manage taking payments without a queue forming.

Contactless PDQ machine

Contactless card payments usually come as standard with countertop, mobile and portable PDQ machines and allows you to process payments in a matter of seconds. You can take contactless payment not only by credit and debit card, but also via Samsung Pay, Google Pay and Apple Pay enabled devices. Keep in mind that for all methods except Apple Pay, there’s an upper limit of £45.

How much does a PDQ machine cost?

There are some fees and costs associated with using a PDQ machine to process card payments. These include merchant fees, card charges and other costs relating to which specific type of PDQ machine you choose.

Find out more about card processing fees.

Why choose Handepay as your PDQ machine provider?

No hidden fees

Unlike other PDQ machine providers, we don’t charge you any hidden fees like PCI DSS compliance

Easy switching

We make it easy to switch your PDQ machine to Handepay. We could even cover the cost of switching to us

Lower transaction fees

We can offer you more favourable transaction fees than some well known PAYG machine providers so you keep more of the revenue you generate

Reliable customer support

Call us anytime for support with your PDQ machine

Take the Handepay price challenge

Looking for a better deal on your PDQ machine or payment services but don’t think we can beat your current offer?

We’re so confident we can save you money on your card processing fees that we’ll give you £1,000 if we can’t.

Next steps

Want to find out more about PDQ machines and how they can help your business? Get in touch with our team today who will be happy to help.

Date Published: 28/01/2021