Settle the Tab from Your Phone: OpenTable Wants to Do Away with ‘Check, Please’

Pilot program lets you pay for dinner by phone, then get up and leave.

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I don’t care if you’re surrounded by the most wonderful people in the world; waiting for the check to arrive in the midst of a food coma is the worst part of dining out.

So I’m glad that OpenTable is trying to get rid of the paper check ritual for good. A pilot program in San Francisco is letting diners pay through their phones, so they can just get up and leave whenever they feel like it.

Users who participate in the program add a credit card through the OpenTable app beforehand. Items then show up on the bill in real-time, and diners can pay at the end with just a swipe. Tax and tip are added automatically, and receipts are sent via e-mail. There’s no paper bill invovled.

OpenTable spokeswoman Tiffany Fox told me by e-mail that the goal really is to let you leave the restaurant without having to flag down the wait staff first. Ideally, servers would know which customers can pay by phone and get notified of payment via the restaurant’s point of sale system. Getting to that point will probably take some time, as OpenTable is still testing, learning and training restaurant staff, Fox wrote.

OpenTable isn’t charging restaurants or diners for the mobile payment service. The company makes money by leasing payment terminals and collecting reservation fees, so payments would be thrown in as an added benefit. (Restaurants, after all, might see quicker turnaround from letting customers pay and leave immediately.)

For now, only a handful of restaurants are involved, and the program is still invite-only. But I’m hoping OpenTable can make it work and expand it to more cities. It’s not hard to imagine a time when paying through your phone is the standard way to settle up the bill.