OpenTable To Add Pay-By-Phone, But There Are Still A Few Bugs In The System

Restaurant-reservation app OpenTable has begun testing a system for letting diners pay with its app too, the New York Times reported.

In June, OpenTable acquired startup JustChalo, which is testing a mobile payments application in 20 restaurants. By the end of 2013, OpenTable plans to introduce its system in San Francisco restaurants and expand from there, according to OpenTable CEO Matthew Roberts.

The payment process will be straightforward: At the end of a meal, the diner will open the OpenTable app and review the check, adjust the tip and finish the payment with the tap of a button. "There's no scanning, there's no bar codes, there's no geeky stuff," Roberts said.

There's also apparently no way currently for a waiter to know that a customer has paid the bill. One potential solution is for the system to send a notification to restaurant workers, letting them know the diner has paid. "The last thing you want is a server to chase somebody out of the building," Roberts told the Times, adding that OpenTable is trying to solve problems like this before the new payment feature goes live.

It's also not clear how the payment will get from OpenTable's system to the restaurant's point-of-sale system. Roberts said OpenTable won't take a cut of each transaction but will just offer the payment system as a service to its customers. OpenTable does get a fee for reservations made through the app.

OpenTable does make the whole system sound simple and elegant, but every mobile payments system sounds simple and elegant in concept. However, the fact that OpenTable hasn't solved the problem of notifying restaurant staff that a payment has been made—just a few months before the system is supposed to go live—suggests there may be a lot more practical considerations that haven't been ironed out.

For example, where are credit or debit card numbers stored? Who's the merchant of record? How long will it take for the restaurant to be paid? Can the system handle all major cards? What about restaurant-specific gift cards? What if the app fails to notify the restaurant that payment has been made, or the amount appears not to match what the customer approved, or doesn't cover the bill? And with 28,000 restaurants using OpenTable's reservations service, what changes will be required to connect their point-of-sale systems to the payment service?

There's a reason the most successful mobile payments system (that would be Starbucks) uses scanning and bar codes—"geeky stuff," as Roberts puts it. If his developers can crack the mobile payments problem, that's great. But they clearly haven't yet.

For more:

- See this New York Times story

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