Seamless Payments Arrive In Restaurants

Walk out and pay with a new restaurant app

Have you ever been tempted to leave a restaurant without paying the bill? Well, with new payment technology hitting the high street, now you can. UK restaurant chain Wagamama has partnered with Mastercard to offer a new walk out and pay app to its customers, Wagamamago.

Seamless payments, improved experience

Wagamama’s new walk out system is powered by Qkr!, a smartphone app from Mastercard. By connecting their credit or debit cards to the app, users are able to automatically pay for their restaurant bill with their phones. The restaurant chain estimates that this will save customers an average of 12 minutes per meal, as they will no longer have to ask for the bill, wait for it to arrive, and then wait again to pay.

This kind of technology signals a new development in the realm of seamless payments – the removal of friction points around consumer purchases to improve the payment experience and encourage customers to part with more of their cash. Whilst popular payment apps such as Apple Pay have been around for the past few years, walk out payment systems offer a new aspect to the payment experience. The point of sale (POS) is removed, orders are charged automatically to the customer’s account, and the user is free to leave the restaurant whenever they choose.

Between an app and a hard place

Walk out and pay mobile apps might be the future of seamless payments, but they are currently stuck in a transitional phase. Whilst Wagamama’s app might be attractive to the most tech savvy of its customers, many will still choose to pay in conventional ways. This could cause problems for a host of different reasons. Mixed tables of app users and non app users dining together will not only cause confusion over the bill, it will also make the walk out app redundant for those who then have to wait for their friends.

What’s more, whilst this move signifies a new application of technology to the restaurant experience, diners are caught between their use of the app and the traditional reliance on human servers. Although users of Wagamama’s app can pay for the bill on their phones, they are still required to begin their order with a human server. This multi layered process of interacting with both humans and technology is an unwelcome complication which could impede the uptake of the system. It is neither completely frictionless, nor a fully social interaction.

Tap happy

Whether or not Wagamama’s payment app is a commercial success, it is clear from consumer trends that we are increasingly in favour of seamless payment systems. After a lukewarm reception when they entered the market around ten years ago, contactless payments are now soaring in popularity with European consumers.

According to a report by Visa Europe, face to face contactless payments with Visa rose from one in 60 in 2013 to more than one in five in 2016. In the US, Amazon Go has opened its first store in Seattle, enabling customers to simply pick up and walk away with the items they want. Lastly, the seamless payment system at Uber has helped it to become the world’s most valuable startup, with a valuation of $72bn in early 2018.

Crunching on credit

We value the convenience, flexibility and time saving potential of seamless payments. Yet they could also be contributing to a problematic change in social attitudes around money. It isn’t difficult to understand how the promotion of a cashless society will foster increased consumer spending and debt. Seamless payments remove the pain of paying with cash, a phenomenon which encourages us to spend more, to buy less healthy products and to have a throwaway, consumerist attitude to the items we purchase.

Flippant attitudes to credit shook the world in the financial crisis of 2008. Whilst it’s a long way from buying a house on bad credit to sharing a bowl of noodles with friends, it is clear that the mechanisms of payment effect social change. Seamless payment can bring real benefits to consumers and business, but it is also something to be wary of.

Could your business benefit from seamless payment systems? Would you personally link your credit card to your phone? Does walk out payment damage the social experience of dining in a restaurant? Share your thoughts and opinions.

For more insights into financial technology sign up to our free weekly newsletter.