Taking the cheque has always been a downer at the end of a restaurant meal: The damage arrives in its little cheque-holder like a toll-booth to be negotiated. Wouldn't it be nicer to just get up, walk away, and have the bill sort itself out?
That's the premise behind Tab, a Toronto startup that's enlisted 18 of the city's higher-end restaurant in its bid to get consumers to skip the bill-paying ritual, and instead let the app automatically handle payment and tipping – leaving them with nothing to do at the end of the meal but say farewell and walk out the door.
Tab users download a free app, set up a profile, and plug in their payment information. If they're eating at a participating restaurant, they start the meal by checking into the establishment – the app pops up a list, geolocated to the closest participating institution. And that's it – at the end of the meal, the app picks up the tab.
"Ultimately, our goal is that, once you've done those two clicks, you put your phone in pocket, and enjoy your meal," says Adam Epstein, Tab's co-founder.
Since most people tip the same amount from one meal to the next, Tab users set a default tipping percentage, which they can change anytime if the service is spectacular, or turns out to stink.
Mr. Epstein's particular nemesis with Tab is the wireless card-reading machine. Where servers could once leave a bill in a cheque-holder and come back for it later, they are obliged to supervise customers using a wireless terminal – which means trying to make a show of looking discreetly away while they calculate a tip, then returning to finish the deal.
"It might sound counterintuitive, but we actually get technology out of the way," he says.
For their part, Tab supplies restaurants with iPad Minis. Servers check customers in, and can see a profile of who they're serving, allowing for a more personalized experience. After the meal, the server enters the total amount that is owing, to which the Tab then adds the specified tip and collects from the customer's credit card, and passes along to the restaurant. Tab takes a small (though undisclosed) percentage; Mr. Epstein says their costs are lower than the fees that payment processors usually charge restaurants, so they can make money without dinging their clients.
Options for cashless payments are something smartphone users are seeing more and more of. Tap-to-pay has become a reality with credit and debit cards, and companies like Starbucks and Tim Horton's – as well as their indie competitors – are encouraging customers to pay by scanning bar-codes from their phone screens. Systems like this open the door for add-ons like loyalty programs like Starbucks', or – in Tab's case – the ability to rate your server after the meal.
A former M&A lawyer, Mr. Epstein is a serial entrepreneur, who'd previously taken a shot at a sports league-coordination app called Huddlers, which didn't turn out to get the traction he'd hoped. Tab, his latest venture, launched this past April, and has already picked up well-known restaurants like Ascari Enoteca, The Thompson Diner, and Brassaii; they expect to have about 40 on board soon. All they need now is diners who are willing to forego the cheque.