December 6th, 2012 by Judith Aquino

Imagine yourself finishing off a meal in a crowded restaurant, paying the bill on your smartphone, and walking away. Companies like self-service technology provider NCR are making that scenario a reality. NCR has launched NCR Mobile Pay, a product that enables restaurant patrons to browse their bill, re-order menu items, alert their server, and pay their bill on a smartphone.

Along with several other reporters, I saw the Mobile Pay product in action at City Winery in New York, one of NCR’s clients. While sitting at a table with NCR staff and PR execs hovering nearby, Mike Finley, vice president and chief technology officer of hosted solutions at NCR, used a receipt from our meal to demonstrate what one could do with Mobile Pay.

By scanning a QR code on a smartphone, customers are directed to a digital version of their check on a mobile browser. From there, you can re-order menu items, alert a server, rate your experience, mark items with a “thumbs up” icon,  post a comment on Facebook or Twitter, leave a tip, pay your bill, and get an emailed receipt.

“From the customer’s side, it’s all about efficiency,” said Finley. “We’re already used to our mobile devices giving us back our time in a number of ways, so why shouldn’t we have that at a restaurant too?”

City Winery introduced Mobile Pay to its customers in August. While general manager David Richter said it was too soon to provide hard numbers about the technology’s benefits, anecdotally, it has proven useful for reducing lines.

“We host many events like concerts, and food and wine classes and at the end of these events we have multiple tables that our servers are trying to close-out at the same time, which can be a challenge. We’ve found Mobile Pay to be an extremely valuable asset that allows our customers to pay their bill without waiting for their server,” Richter said.

The ability to gauge customers’ sentiments in real time through Mobile Pay’s feedback capabilities (it uses the Net Promoter Score) and remind customers to share their experience on social media while they are still in the restaurant could also be useful for owners. It is also interesting that the sharing feature can be programmed to ask if you would like to post a comment about your dining experience only if you provide a high rating.

From a marketing perspective, it is also easy to imagine restaurant owners earning ad revenue by including messages or coupons on the screen as customers use the app.

It is still unclear, though, how long it will take for mobile payment systems to take hold as a common service. Poor Wi-Fi, fat thumbs + too many drinks (you mean you didn’t want to order 6 more entrees?) are just some of the issues that could slow down the adoption rate.

Then again, given how common it is to see people pecking away at their phones in restaurants, it would not be a stretch to see them actually having a reason to do so.

See for yourself how Mobile Pay works in the video below:

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