SCIENCE AND TECH
How Mobile Payments are Refining the Dining Experience
With the acquisition of Canadian mobile payments app Tab and its US counterpart, Cover, London-based Velocity becomes the global leader in dining and dashing
This scene is all too relatable: you’ve just finished an epic Italian dinner with five of your friends and you call on your waiter to bring over the bill. The rest of your group is still engrossed in conversation and is finishing the last tenth of red leftover in their glasses. Before you get the chance to ask, “Can we split the bills, please?” your waiter is already across the room.
The next five to 10 minutes are the most excruciating. Will he possess the sixth sense to know that we don’t want to spend 15 minutes of our time thereafter passing around the itemized receipt, and doing the mental math with the aid of calculators on our mobile phones?
Inside most quality dining establishments where guest service remains a top priority, the front-of-house staff is almost always happy to split the bills even among large groups. And let’s just say, that in this case, our waiter had the sense to make our lives easier by splitting the bill six ways. Then comes the classic, debit-credit wireless terminal merry-go-round, because let’s get real, nobody carries cash anymore.
This 30-minute payment ordeal at is what Adam Epstein sought to eliminate when he co-founded Tab Payments, a Toronto-based mobile app that allows users to effectively ‘dine and dash’. “You download the app, and very similar to Uber, you create a profile with your name and picture, and you put in your payment information,” explains Epstein.
The app, which operates in Toronto and Montreal, generates partner restaurants based on location to help guide your dining experience. Once you arrive at a Tab restaurant, you check in and simply tell your server that you’re paying with the app. At the end of the meal, you can use the app to split the bill between a group, and you can leave whenever it suits you. An email receipt will pop up in your inbox shortly after.
While Tab is supports more localized dining, the mobile payments trend is about to get more connected. In late 2015, Tab Payments was acquired by Velocity, the London-based equivalent to Tab Payments across the pond, with top-tier restaurant parnters such as Gymkhana, Burger & Lobster, and Sketch. Velocity also recently snapped up Cover, Tab’s U.S. competitor that maintains a sturdy presence in food-centric cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami. Both Tab and Cover will be rebranding to Velocity in Q2 of 2016, effectively turning Velocity into the worldwide leader of restaurant mobile payments and the essential app for global diners.
Velocity gives its restaurant partners crowd-sourced data based on service that’s happening in real time.
Across North America, there are now over 400 restaurants where you can pay with Velocity. In Toronto alone, some of the city’s most notable spots like Byblos, Campagnolo, and Patria. In Montreal, Joe Beef, Tapeo, Barbouyna. And in New York, restaurant Daniel, celebrity chef Daniel Boloud’s namesake restaurant, Blue Hill, and Carbone.
“Generally speaking, most of the restaurants we partner with, work so hard to create this magical orchestra of a dining experience with all these moving parts and fine details, and at the end, you’re dealt this awkward cashier-like experience while your server lurches over you with a wireless terminal,” Epstein declares. “It’s a bad experience for everyone.”
Beyond reconciling the end-of-meal catastrophe that could ruin an otherwise pristine dining experience, Epstein says that Velocity wants to be part of a personalized-dining economy: “Servers have the ability to know the names and faces of every paying customer in the middle of service. They also have the ability to know the number of times a guest has been at the restaurant,” which helps to rid of the very monotonous and transactional association that diners have with their servers – the relationship evolves into more of a friendly connection. “That’s a large part of enhancing hospitality,” Epstein says.
On the flipside, Velocity users also have the ability to rate their waiters at the end of every meal with certain number of stars. Quality control and training of front-of-house staff, even in the age-old dining industry, is a recurring issue that still hasn’t been remedied. Often restaurant managers hear grave complements or horrible complaints about their staff, but there’s no in between. Velocity gives its restaurant partners crowd-sourced data based on service that’s happening in real time.
In Toronto, a city that’s slower on the uptake of mobile payments across a breadth of industries, I have had some flawed experiences. Like that that time I tried to pay with Tab at Marben, a restaurant in the King West neighbourhood, and I was flat out told by the bartender: “I don’t think we accept Tab anymore.” (After asking another server, she quite effortlessly processed our bill through the app.) And another time I had brunch at a Queen West joint and the server looked so quizzically into my eyes when I asked him if I could pay with Tab that I wondered whether he knew of the app at all.
Still, for the 25 to 35 young professional demographic that works downtown – for people like me, who dine in large groups, who travel quite frequently between Toronto, Montreal and New York, who roll their eyes at the 30-minute process of bill splitting – Velocity is a certainly a blessing. And mainstream adoption of mobile restaurant payment apps, by way of Velocity or another, will escalate slowly but surely in the same way that Uber spiraled into one of the most effective mobile services to date.
For Epstein, who says that Velocity’s target market is a geographical reflection of where partner restaurants are located, he feels that their app hasn’t done a good enough job at capturing the 45-plus segment, avid diners who have the spare time and expendable income to eat out because their children are away at school and because they’ve reached their peak income. Attracting those diners will be a milestone.