The New ‘Dine-and-Dash’: Mobile Payment Apps Pick Up Steam at Restaurants

The New ‘Dine-and-Dash’: Mobile Payment Apps Pick Up Steam at Restaurants

Our bellies full after eggs, sausage and a short-stack of pumpkin-spice pancakes—made with real pumpkin, not just “pumpkin spice”—my brunch date and I stood up, surveyed the table for any lingering possessions and then left.

October 22, 2014
Our bellies full after eggs, sausage and a short-stack of pumpkin-spice pancakes—made with real pumpkin, not just “pumpkin spice”—my brunch date and I stood up, surveyed the table for any lingering possessions and then left.

No check.

No cash.

No magnetic stripes swiped.

I felt like I had just dined-and-dashed but I did indeed pay, using a mobile-payment app designed specifically for restaurants called Cover that allows users to pay for the whole bill or split it with friends from the convenience of their smart phone.


It doesn’t let you make reservations directly through the app, though, unlike OpenTable's take on mobile payments, which launched in San Francisco in March 2014 and has rolled out to New York and Washington D.C., with plans for expansion.


For restaurants, a benefit of OpenTable’s “pay without the wait” function is that it works within existing point-of-sale systems.

Cover launched in New York City at the end of 2013 and then branched out into San Francisco Bay Area in May 2014.


Overall, restaurants seem to be pleased with the results.

“When you’re adding something to your p.o.s. system it has to work seamlessly and (Cover is) aware of that,” said Talia Berman, Maysville’s general manager in New York City. “I’ve worked with other startups that were more relaxed about how the back-end worked”—in other words, not attentive to the restaurant’s needs.


Although it does add an extra step. A server or manager has to check the Cover app in addition to processing the payment through its regular point-of-sale system.

Maysville decided the slight extra effort is worth it.

“It’s certainly manageable. We decided it would add to our guests’ experience and possibly bring in more guests, so that makes up for the extra administrative step,” Berman said, and the ability to use it for large events and “house accounts”—where a restaurant can store frequent guests’ payment information—is also a big draw.

Integrating Cover into the p.o.s. system would make it even more appealing, said Ben Hetzel, the general manager at Alta Ca in San Francisco, but overall he’s happy with the results.


“It’s great and really easy to use. I’d like to see more people using it,” Hetzel said. “If every restaurant in the city used it, more people would use it.”

For guests, using apps like Cover and OpenTable to pay for meals is pretty seamless after a few easy steps to set it up. You can even scan your card right into the app, using your phone’s camera, or enter it manually, and tipping is built into the process, too.

The main limitation, as Hetzel pointed out, is the small pool of restaurants to choose from right now.

Between both the Cover and OpenTable payment apps, less than 50 restaurants show up in San Francisco, with very little overlap.

Closer to 100 restaurants are listed in New York City on Cover’s website and 52 appear in OpenTable’s app.

Apple Pay also launched this week at over 220,000 retailers across the country, such as Bloomingdales, Walgreens and Whole Foods, as well as within OpenTable’s app.

Restaurants are excited about the potential of Apple Pay, said Tiffany Fox, head of communications at OpenTable.

And mobile payments might be more secure than actual credit card transactions until the ubiquitous magnetic stripe is replaced with a chip already utilized in other countries.

So, bye bye credit and debit cards… Maybe. Digital wallets are slowly taking e-commerce to the next level and giving plastic, ahem, a run for its money.

By Sara Bloomberg