The ubiquitous nature of smartphones means people are using the devices for all sorts of tasks - they can be a camera, a music player, a facilitator of social media interactions and increasingly a gadget through which diners can pay the bill in restaurants.
A growing number of electronic point of sale (EPoS) providers are integrating with smartphone apps designed to allow users to pay at a time that suits them, so they can avoid a lengthy wait for a paper bill or for a busy waiter to come to them with a card reader.
One such app, called Zapper, has been adopted by a number of London restaurants, such as Burger & Lobster, Novikov and Granger & Co. It works by diners using their smartphone to scan a QR code that is printed on the bill, which then activates a payment gateway on the app. Users can choose to split their bill by
percentage or by number of guests and can enter a tip - all in their own time.
First-time users are taken to the app download page when they scan the code. The app requires no topping up - users can load up details of a number of cards and the money is taken directly from their debit account.
"It turns what can be a five- or 10-minute wait into a process that essentially can take only a few seconds," says Zapper's business development director James Sykes Hagen.
"When people finish their meal they often want to leave straight away and waiting can become a negative experience. Payment in this way allows them to take ownership and leave more quickly. Having that really fast process is empowering for the diner."
Sykes Hagen says Zapper can work with 80% of EPoS systems by running a cable between the point of sale hub and the printer and it has also been integrated at the software level with ICR Touch and MyPOS systems. The system was established in South Africa - a popular location for security and payments firms, because it is a high-risk environment for cash. According to Sykes Hagen, the system is easy to use and the reuse figures are high, implying that once people have tried paying via Zapper, they will use it again.
He adds: "Whenever something new comes up in the payment world - like chip and pin and touch payments - people are wary for a while. But the good thing about Zapper is it's simple and safe - every step is clear and you get confirmation after different parts of the process."
Flypay's QR code
A similar app is Flypay, although according to chief technology officer Chris Evans, the approach is slightly different and aims to make the whole process "waiterless".
Rather than using a QR code printed on a bill, Flypay's approach is to have a code stuck to the table or on a card in the sugar bowl, so users can pay at any stage they want. The app has been integrated by a number of major EPoS vendors, including NCR, Micros and Tissl, and has been customised for a number
of restaurants, including Burrito Mama and Gourmet Burger Kitchen.
"Payment using apps is a two-way thing and both good for the customer and restaurant," says Evans. "Customers can get on with their day and the receipt is emailed to them while the restaurant achieves faster table turnaround times. We can also collect information on what people are eating and how many times they have returned."
Flypay's app is also integrated with EPoS supplier Zonal, where sales and marketing director Clive Consterdine believes the technology will become popular quickly.
"There is a lot of interest in the market on how you speed up the experience for diners," he says. "Putting control in their hands is something our customers have been asking for some considerable time."
Consterdine says mobile payment apps are also being used to promote loyalty, where each scan on a QR code registers a visit. "Everyone carries a smartphone these days - it is better that people use it to identify themselves than carry five or six different loyalty cards around with them," he adds.
And it is not just in high-street restaurants that the use of mobile phones, apps and QR codes to pay for meals has taken off. Cashless payment provider Systopia has recently launched a system called Engento for use in the business, education and leisure sectors.
Managing director Chris Lyons says his system, which also provides payment through chip and pin and tap-and-go technology through a key fob or wristband, incorporates payment through mobile phones as another option to facilitate efficient transactions.
"It's all about speed and getting rid of cash. Everyone prefers e-payments to cash these days," he says.
At EPoS provider Micros, director of food and beverage Mark Gausden can only see the trend for using smartphones in all sorts of transactions with operators growing.
He adds: "Smartphones are changing the way we live our lives and the industry must keep up with that. The restaurant and pub guest of tomorrow is using a smartphone for everything and Micros is helping operators to take advantage in a number of ways - payment is one those."
Burger & Lobster gains customer insights with Zapper
According to Alexandra Lea, group marketing manager at Burger & Lobster, the use of mobile payments has helped the company learn more about its customers from the information the system collects.
The hamburger and seafood group introduced the Zapper app at its restaurant on Little Portland Street in London's Fitzrovia in May, and Lea says it has
been met with a good response from customers, "especially from time-sensitive corporate diners".
"The staff have been very positive about the app and its ability to provide a more personal element to service, while taking away the operational burden associated with PDQ machines," she adds.
"It allows our team to serve customers better while giving the customer a more dynamic experience. We have also gained unique new insights into our business, allowing us to know customers better and really drive repeat business."
Wahaca improves its service with Flypay
Mark Selby, managing director of Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca, says around one in 10 of his diners have paid their bill using their smartphone.
Wahaca, which has 13 restaurants across London, introduced Flypay's mobile payment system nine months ago and, according to Selby, the technology has been received positively.
"People are fascinated with it and many just leap in and give it a go," he says. "About 10% have tried it - maybe up to 15% at peak times - and the repeat rate
is really good."
Selby says that although mobile payments do speed up table turnaround times, the key advantage of the technology is the improved service that can be offered to diners.
"Customers don't have to wait around - they can pay and be on their way within a minute," he adds. "A restaurant can offer great food and service, but then customers can get frustrated if they have to wait for a busy waiter who is running around trying to find the credit card machine. This way the waiter can focus on the core part of the job - the service during the meal - and the diners can pay whenever they are ready."
Selby says the next move for Wahaca is to incorporate the Flypay app into its own customised app that will be branded and used to push news and special offers to users.