Dining out? Let your phone pick up the check

Enduring the interminable wait for a check at a bar or restaurant is something akin to torture when you have places to go, friends to meet, or a long trek home ahead of you. Dash is a new iOS app that lets you see and settle your tab straight from your smartphone, and while the app is only available at select New York lounges and eateries, Dash is part of a growing number of startups out to prove that mobile payments can make going out more fun.

I tested out Dash a few weeks ago at New York City seafood spot City Crab to see if settling a tab by phone is as easy as it sounds. If you have Bluetooth turned on, the app automatically checks you into a restaurant as you walk through the door. I didnt, so I checked in manually. Then you tell your server that youre paying with Dash. Thats pretty much the extent of the effort you have to put inI had already stored my payment information in the app, so when I opened it up again at the end of the meal, I simply had to see if my bill was correct and choose a tip percentage.

I regularly use apps that make my life easier by letting me pick and pay for things without having to pull out a credit card, run to an ATM or, in the case of Seamless, without even leaving my house. But sometimes, when Im not feeling like a bum, I like to go out. If I can enjoy a little human interaction while still paying for things by phone, like I can with Uber and Lyft when I need a ride, then Im all for it. But apps like Dash face two challenges: Convincing restaurants that mobile payments make their jobs easier and getting users on board.

Dine and dash

Dash isnt the only app trying to use your phone to transform your dining experience. Cover and TabbedOut offer similar experiences, though each app has slightly different features and various partner restaurants on board.

Like Dash, Cover is currently only available in New York, but unlike Dash, Cover is also on Android. The app has a slew of trendy Manhattan restaurants on board, including hot spots like Charlie Bird and Estela. The Austin-based TabbedOut has partner restaurants across the country.

But the real giant is a company that no one associates with mobile paymentsyet. In February, online reservation manager OpenTable started testing an in-app payment program at 13 restaurants in San Francisco. OpenTable already works with 31,000 restaurants seating 14 million people a month, so its relationships with restaurant owners are well-established. And because OpenTable handles a restaurants reservation and table management systems, which are integrated with the point-of-sale system that tells your server what table youre sitting at and what youve ordered, theres no extra work for you or your server when it comes time to pay.

You dont have to say, Im here for my reservation, and Im going pay with a mobile payment, OpenTable spokeswoman Tiffany Cox told TechHive. Behind the scenes, all this integration is happening.

With other payment apps, you have to make sure to tell your server youre paying with an app. OpenTable automatically flags your table so restaurant staffers know you might pay with the app. When youve paid, the table is flagged againso no one chases after you with the check when you leave.

We dont want anyone to do anything different than theyre already doing, Cox said.

OpenTables payment program has one limitation, though: You have to book a reservation at the restaurant on OpenTable in order to pay with the app when you wrap up your meal, which means you cant experience the magic as a walk-in.

Now we wait

People are really excited about mobile payments. Our pocket computers are finally making our lives exponentially easier. According to a 2013 Forrester Research report, more than 60 percent of consumers want to pay for meals by phone. But the idea of going out to eat and not plunking down cash or cards is still pretty novel. Dash and Cover have yet to take on markets outside New York City. OpenTable stressed the test nature of its program.

But Forrester analyst Denée Carrington said OpenTable already has an advantageit doesnt have to convince restaurants to adopt a new app, like other payment services do.

Part of the challenge [for these apps] is gaining scalescale with both merchants and consumers, Carrington said. On the merchant side, its hard building a business going door-to-door. OpenTable is best positioned because they have so many merchant relationships already.

Scale with users will happen as more people start finding out that they can settle a check with their phone, and get comfortable with the idea of walking out of a restaurant without paying the traditional way. Adoption also speeds up when big names like Starbucks get involvedthe company in March updated its app to let you add a tip for your baristas straight from your phone. Starbucks has been getting its customers used to the idea of paying by phone. That could translate to dining experiences that are a little fancier than coffee and a snack.

Mobile payments in the U.S. are going to be an evolution, Carrington said. Its the type of thing where consumers will begin to encounter more merchants that are encouraging, accepting, and promoting mobile payments. Theyll test it out and decide whether it works for them and in what circumstance. It might work for you at Starbucks, but it might not work as well for you at a restaurant.


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