Apple Pay and Full Service Dining - Here's How It Works

It's easy to use Apple Pay with the cashier at, say, Walgreens or Panera Bread because there's an NFC enabled terminal right at the cash register.  But what about full service restaurants where you normally pay the server at your table? Recently, I wondered how this could work, and it turns out that OpenTable has an answer.


Last week, I was looking at a screen shot I took of the September 9, 2014 Apple media event in which Eddy Cue introduced Apple Pay. Sitting right there at the top of the image was the OpenTable logo, and so I thought I'd contact the company and see what's happening.

I spoke with OpenTable Senior Director, Corporate Communications. Tiffany Fox. She graciously filled me in on Apple Pay and OpenTable.

Apple Senior VP Eddy Cue introduces Apple Pay. Note my red arrow.
Image credit: Apple

How it Works

OpenTable already works with many restaurants as a reservation system and "integrates with existing POS systems in restaurants." The company offers a reservation system that can be used with an iPad app, via a web browser or a reservation book (hardware) system with a touch screen. In turn, if the customer has the iOS OpenTable app for, say, iPhone, they can create an account and have a credit card on file.

Currently, a customer can simply, with a few taps, make a reservation at a participating restaurant. When the customer is ready to pay, all that's required is to inspect the bill, apply a tip (with a handy tip calculator), and then authorize the credit card payment. (See below.)

Left: make a reservation. Right: pay whem ready.

The Apple Pay method won't be much different except that you won't need an OpenTable account. Again, it starts with a reservation so that customers are in the system when they arrive at the restaurant. When they check in, they'll be recognized as a customer who may elect to pay with Apple Pay (but it isn't mandatory).

As the server enters meal items for the customer on the restaurant's computer, the customer will be able to see a running total of items in the OpenTable app—if desired. When it comes time to pay, the customer will use the OpenTable iOS app pretty much the same way except that Apple Pay (on an iPhone 6/6 Plus or later) will be invoked and authorized with a fingerprint. The customer will receive a paid receipt via email.

When the customer pays like this, the payment is logged in the reservation system and at the server's terminal, so there's no question the customer has paid. Whenever the customers using this system are ready to leave, they need not wait on the server. They can cheerfully walk out the door knowing the payment has been recognized by the reservation system and the restaurant personnel.

Next: Moving beyond the current payment method.

Page 2 - That Old, Messy Payment Method


Currently, in restaurants where you pay at the table, there are all kinds of potential problems that Apple Pay solves.

First, that thin, black book that holds the credit card and receipt and the ball point pen (that never works) are just vectors to pass diseases from customer to customer. Who knows where they've been? Second, the prospect of the server disappearing behind the scenes of the restaurant for a long time with credit card in hand makes many people nervous.

Hopefully, soon to be a thing of the past.

Years ago, I had a server actually lose my credit card. She dropped it behind a counter and it was just gone. That night, the manager said they tore the place apart and found it. He kept it in the safe, and I had to go back the next day to retrieve it.

Finally, that thermal paper receipt you sign has a BPA coating that is easily absorbed through the skin, especially if you've just used hand sanitizer. Paperless is better for the environment too.

When Will This Start?

Right now, OpenTable is working with selected restaurants in New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to make Apple Pay available to customers. Ms. Fox told me that there are already two restaurants in Denver, Mercantile Dinning at Union Station and Coohills in LoDo (Lower Downtown) that accept Apple Pay this way.

I've personally chatted with the manager of one of my own favorite restaurants in the Denver Tech Center, and he reports that they're looking into it. Their wine list is already on iPads, so I expect it won't be long before his restaurant embraces Apple Pay.

Considering the advantages for both the restaurant and the customer, it would seem that using Apple Pay with OpenTable will meet with great enthusiasm all around. Apple Pay is already so popular, customers, from what I've read, are cheerfully prodding their favorite merchants to accept this more secure and convenient mobile payment system.

Realistically, however, momentum will have to build throughout 2015 before one can expect Apple Pay to begin to augment the old black book/paper receipt/credit card method. Personally, I can't wait.


Restaurant scene and payment book via Shutterstock.

OpenTable app images via OpenTable.