All aspects of our lives—both business and pleasure—are being transformed as technology evolves. Consumer-facing technology in restaurants, however, is only now getting high visibility. New ordering and payment systems popping up are changing consumers’ familiar experiences of ordering and paying for a meal. We asked consumers about one of the new technologies beginning to make inroads in chain restaurants: mobile-phone payment.

Placing food orders by mobile phone has become routine for many consumers, but paying the bill on a mobile device is still a novelty. Just over one out of 10 consumers reports having paid for a restaurant meal by smartphone. Of these, nearly half have paid their order in connection with mobile ordering for pickup or delivery, using the restaurant’s own app. About three out of 10 consumers also used a restaurant’s dedicated app at the restaurant to pay their bill. In fact, more and more chains are integrating ordering, payment and loyalty programs into a single app; Starbucks, for instance, is now processing almost five million mobile transactions per week.

Also popular are other systems that consumers can use for cash-free and plastic-free payment at many types of businesses. A quarter of consumers who have employed mobile payment have done so in the restaurant using a mobile wallet system such as Square Wallet. A fifth have settled their bill at the restaurant using a payment app such as Apple Passbook or LevelUp. Finally, a fifth have completed and paid for a restaurant transaction on their mobile phone via a multiple-restaurant ordering site such as GrubHub or Seamless.

These percentages total more than 100% because a good number of those who have used mobile payment for restaurant bills have employed different methods on different occasions.

These consumers who have used mobile payment for restaurant meals were asked what they found appealing about these systems. The top answer given was general convenience, followed by speed. About three out of 10 cited the security of paying the bill on a device that never leaves their side.

The Future of Mobile Payment

Offering mobile payment requires operator commitment and technological savvy to execute properly. But it probably shouldn’t be put off; consumers are coming to expect this convenience in larger chains and will next begin to look for mobile-payment options in regional chains and independent restaurants. Once they’ve tried it, consumers are hooked; 98% of those who have ever paid a restaurant bill on a mobile device say they’d be likely to do so again, and 63% would be extremely likely to do so.

Future of mobile payment

Bottom line: Paying a restaurant check on a mobile device is the next logical step after mobile ordering. The convenience, speed, security and record-keeping features of mobile payment can’t be beat, and paying a restaurant bill by mobile fits into the Millennial lifestyle of conducting much of life’s business by smartphone. Look for this payment method to become routine in coming years.


  • Mobile payment may seem like a big leap for an independent operator, but technology companies stand ready to help. System providers like Paydiant and others can help you set up your own mobile payment app.  
  • Alternatively or in addition, you can sign up with an existing system like Isis Mobile Wallet, a joint venture of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. The Isis app supports Chase and American Express cards; in November, it also began accepting payments made through American Express Serve pre-paid cards.
  • As mobile payment proliferates, consumers will have less patience with slow service and inaccurate checks no matter how they pay their bill. You may want to devote attention to ordering systems, POS systems and staff training to expedite the speed of the entire restaurant experience and make it as hassle-free as possible.  

Base: Online survey of 500 consumers conducted in January 2014
Source: American Express MarketBriefing by Technomic, Inc.; February 2014


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