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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

OpenTable Begins Testing Mobile Payments

OpenTable, the world’s largest online reservation service, lets users book a restaurant reservation with its smartphone app or Web site. Now the company is getting ready to take the next step and let diners pay for the meal with its app, too.

The payment process, still in testing, will be straightforward, Matthew Roberts, chief executive of OpenTable, said in an interview. At the end of a meal, the diner would open the OpenTable app and pay the check with the tap of a button. The diner can review the check, adjust the tip and finish the payment.

“There’s no scanning, there’s no bar codes, there’s no geeky stuff,” Mr. Roberts said. He said that OpenTable would not take a cut of each transaction if a diner paid with the app. The restaurant would be charged the typical interchange fee for a credit card transaction. The simple transactions through the app are another way to attract people to use OpenTable, which charges restaurants for reservations made through the service as well as a monthly service charge for using its equipment.

OpenTable, which works with 28,000 restaurants around the world, in June paid $11 million in stock to acquire JustChalo, a mobile technology company working on a payments application for restaurants. JustChalo is still running a pilot program testing the payments system in 20 restaurants. By the end of the year, OpenTable will introduce its mobile payments system for San Francisco, where it is based, and expand from there, Mr. Roberts said.

OpenTable is being cautious with its release of mobile payments, because integrating technology into dining can be difficult. Paying with an app could decrease the amount of time a diner has to wait for a waiter to bring the check. But a waiter could easily think diners were skipping the check if they pay the tab with a phone, get up and leave. OpenTable is trying to solve problems like this before the feature goes live, Mr. Roberts said. One potential solution to avoid confusion is for the system to send a notification to the restaurant workers, letting them know the diner has paid.

“The last thing you want is a server to chase somebody out of the building,” he said.