Payments

How UK restaurant Wagamama is making payments ‘invisible’

  • U.K.-based restaurant chain Wagamama released a 'pay and go' feature, offering customers the option to bypass the checkout step
  • U.S. restauranteurs face culture and technology hurdles before seamless 'pay and go' capabilities become common
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How UK restaurant Wagamama is making payments ‘invisible’

Payments companies and mobile ordering platforms are trying out Uber-type payment models at sit-down restaurants so customers will be able to order and leave, bypassing the checkout step. For example, restaurant chain Wagamama recently rolled out the wagamamago app, which lets U.K. customers pay and tip in-app, eliminating the checkout process. If they don’t pay before leaving, their card is automatically charged when they leave based on location.

Wagamamago uses Mastercard’s Qkr! digital ordering and payment platform, which is integrated via APIs into its own app. Customers need to check in and give restaurant staff a code, which the wait staff tags to the table. U.K. customers, in contrast to U.S., counterparts, may be more open to changing their payment behavior since their payment habits have already been disrupted by widespread adoption of contactless payments. Qkr! is available in the U.S., but hasn’t been widely adopted by restaurants. In the U.K. however, major chains are allowing ‘pay with mobile’ capabilities through the Qkr! app, including Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, Ask Italian and Bryon Hamburgers. Wagamama did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s a behavioral change we’re witnessing here — pay with mobile is a new thing, and as we get critical mass, more consumers and merchants will become familiar with it,” a U.K.-based Mastercard spokesman told Tearsheet.

In the U.S., table booking apps have tried to integrate the feature, but “walk in, walk out” payments still aren’t integral part of the payment experience. Pay with Open Table, which launched four years ago, is available for customers who leave a card on file to pay for their restaurant meals within the app. The competing table booking app Reserve, discontinued a in-app payment function two years ago, but the company said it’s working with tech company Omnivore to build a better one. CEO Greg Hong said for consumers to switch to a “pay with the app” function, it’s got to be a completely seamless process both from the consumer and retailer point of sale side, and the technology is just not there yet. On the business side, there hasn’t been much interoperability with the platforms.

“You need to be completely integrated into the restaurant’s tech stack,” he said. “As soon as you have to add operational elements, you’re adding a layer of complexity that the consumer isn’t used to.”

But while the technology is enabling a walk in, walk out experience, U.S. companies still face user adoption challenges. Many people will be hard pressed to find an incentive to switch payment methods — similar to how consumer mobile payments adoption is growing even though a lot of customers still prefer using cash. Research shows two out of five U.S. consumers paid their restaurant bill with cash last year. Among those who preferred not to use digital payment vehicles, 22 percent said they preferred to pay in cash, 18 percent didn’t want to pay service fees and 16 percent were concerned about identity theft or credit card fraud.

The technology is way ahead of customer demand, said David True, partner at PayGility Advisors. It would also require the customer to download a new app, something many would not be prepared to do, he added, unless a customer sees marked improvement in the experience.

There are cultural hurdles to overcome, too.

For many consumers, the restaurant experience is still intertwined with the visual signal to the wait staff that the meal is over and the participants are ready to settle.

“There’s an inertia among customers and restaurants [to change their payment behavior],” said Laura Chadwick, director of commerce at entrepreneurship at the National Restaurant Association. “The muscle memory of paying the check at a full-service restaurant is a ritual that includes the presentation of the check, the laying down of the card, signaling to the server, calculating the tip, and lingering at the close of the meal — that’s baked into the fabric of a ‘night on the town.'”

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