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OpenTable plans mobile payments to improve restaurant dining

Online reservation service OpenTable is testing a mobile payment system to let restaurant diners pay for a meal through the company’s mobile application.

OpenTable already lets consumers book a restaurant reservation via a Web site and a mobile app. The company is currently testing a mobile payment system in 20 select restaurants in San Francisco and plans to expand to other restaurants later this year, according to the New York Times.

“We’ve  experienced a growing number of diners who are choosing to book via mobile devices,” said Tiffany Fox, senior director of corporate communications at OpenTable, Inc, San Francicsco.

“In the first quarter of 2013, reservations booked on mobile devices accounted for 36 percent of the 34 million diners OpenTable seated in North America.”

Mobile dining
OpenTable has created a simple system to let diners pay for their meal. The company did not want to include any bar codes or scanning, or anything too complicated.

Users simply open the OpenTable app and pay for the check by tapping a button. The diner will then be able to review the check, add tip and complete the payment.

If a diner pays with the app, OpenTable will not take a cut of the transaction. Restaurants will just be charged the normal interchange fee for a credit card transaction.

Since OpenTable normally charges restaurants for individual reservations made through the service as well as a monthly service charge, this may be an incentive for restaurants to use the mobile payment system.

This past June, OpenTable acquired the mobile technology company JustChalo, which had been working on a payments application for restaurants. With the help of JustChalo, OpenTable hopes to introduce its mobile payments system beyond the San Francisco area, where OpenTable is based.

OpenTable has worked on its mobile strategy for a long time.

Last year, the company built an app specifically for Kindle Fire to expand the reach of its product (see story).

The year before that, OpenTable rolled out an app for the Android Honeycomb tablet and enhanced its Apple apps (see story).

Restaurant obstacles
Before OpenTable can add a mobile payment system to its roster of mobile initiatives, it needs to overcome a few obstacles.

If a diner pays with the app and leaves, a waiter may think that diners were dining and dashing. A waiter may not see a diner open up the app on his or her phone.

OpenTable is trying to solve this problem by including a feature in the app that would notify restaurant workers when a diner pays through the app.

“If OpenTable can work out the kinks for how consumers pay and exit the restaurant without causing issues with the server and the consumer flow process for table-top turn over, there can be several benefits,” said Marci Troutman, CEO of SiteMinis, Atlanta. “Lower cost to the restaurant for labor, better understanding of the consumer, loyalty programs that bring repeat business and higher tickets, expanded patron opportunities and more.”

Ms. Troutman is not affiliated with OpenTable. She commented based on her expertise on the subject.

“The strategy is simple,” she said. “Keep consumers on the OpenTable app as much as possible. Using the app for a payment gateway adds value to all the parties involved.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York