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The App-Free, Restaurant Mobile Payment

There obviously are lots of great commerce-related apps available for doing almost anything previously done before mobile.

Apps can be used for shopping, ordering things for delivery or pickup, paying for parking and buying movie tickets, as but a few examples.

There also are apps that can do things not previously done pre-mobile.

There are apps that can receive radio signals from nearby beacons and leverage that location knowledge to provide contextually relevant mobile messaging as well as apps that show a shopper the in-store location of items they’re searching for.

And when it comes to mobile payments, there are a countless number of apps, many of them very good, which can be used.

The catch is that each person has to select an app they want to use to pay, which can be driven by any number of reasons, such as word-of-mouth, advertising or tips from friends.

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The difficult part for mobile payment app providers is reaching mass scale with consistent and recurring use of the app. Starbucks is a good example on the relatively short list of those. 

Over the weekend, I happened upon a somewhat novel mobile payment approach in a restaurant in Harvard Square, one that didn’t require an app download.

The system is called SplitNGo and is being piloted only in that one restaurant I happened to be in at the moment.

Each table has a small card promoting “Pay in Seconds; No App Required.” The inside of the card has a Web address and a QR code that triggers the same address, sans typing.

The idea is that a group of people eating can quickly split a bill, tip included, and leave without any paper bill coming to the table, with receipts sent digitally.

SplitNGo is one of the startups out of the Venture Innovation Program at the Harvard Innovation Lab, which launched a few years ago as a resource for students from Harvard interested in innovation and entrepreneurship.

One of the owners of the restaurant, Grendels Den, told me that SplitNGo was quickly integrated into the restaurant’s point of sale system so that all transactions entered on that system can be seen instantly by the customer.

The Web address and QR code at each table are different and each automatically links to the table identified in the restaurant’s system.

To be sure, there are some very good apps for mobile paying in restaurants, just as there are some very good apps for mobile commerce at retail.

But for whatever reason, major retailers tell me that the majority of their customers turn to mobile websites rather than apps for commerce.

The intriguing aspect of the SplitNGo approach is that anyone in the restaurant can instantly use it, since pretty much everyone has a phone and all know how to go to a website, even if they don’t know about getting there by QR code.

SplitNGo offers app-like, one-time entering of credit card information, password and email verification so that a second purchase is even faster.

Whether the SplitNGo system can scale is a totally separate issue as is the case of whether masses of consumers want to pay this way rather than handing over a credit card or leaving cash.

In our case over the weekend, the two of us scanned the code, spit the bill and were on our way.

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