Apple Pay at the table: Clover pact adds QR option for dining

The advancement of mobile wallets has never quite aligned with U.S. dining habits, where patrons are accustomed to handing off their credit cards to wait staff — something they are less likely to do with their phones.

But Apple Pay has found a way to get there, with an assist from Fiserv's Clover point of sale devices — and a departure from Apple's longtime expectation that its customers use Near Field Communication to pay from its mobile wallet.

It's also a compromise for restaurants, which will handle the new Scan to Pay payment as an in-app purchase, which carries higher interchange rates than they would typically pay for an in-person card payment.

"Merchants know the fee will be higher. However, there are significant benefits in terms of table-turn times and increasing revenue with more customers," said John Beatty, CEO of Clover at Fiserv. "Plus, there is less labor at the end of a shift for servers and fewer mistakes are made, such as diners not leaving tips or taking the wrong copy of the receipt."Scan to Pay is finishing its testing, and is available to Clover clients now as those merchants need only download the software. Fiserv, which obtained Clover through its acquisition of First Data, has the Clover Station, Clover Mini, Clover Flex and Clover Go as its hardware line. Those terminals already accept NFC payments from Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

For the first five years of its existence, Apple Pay has mostly been associated with NFC tap-and-go payments. But the arrangement with Fiserv's Scan to Pay asks Apple Pay users to scan a QR code on a receipt, which is a habit more typical of software-based wallets like Alipay. Currently, the iPhone camera is the only smartphone camera that can scan the Clover receipt and instantly link to a payment experience.

"It's been a question of NFC vs. QR codes and the answer absolutely is both," Beatty said. "We see a lot of Apple Pay transactions through NFC at the terminals, but this extends the convenience of Apple Pay to other experiences."

It's not an exclusive arrangement for Apple, so Fiserv is expecting other platforms to request Clover integration at some point.

"Before, QR codes were a bit like a niche in that the consumer had to download an app to scan QR codes, but now the iPhone supports it natively," Beatty said. "You just scan the QR code on the receipt that came off the Clover device and it launches you into the payment experience."

As a company under the hood of various mobile payment options at quick-serve restaurant settings, Paydiant was one of the first to give merchants the option of either NFC or QR code technology to initiate contactless sales. It was one of the reasons PayPal acquired Paydiant five years ago.

But for Apple and the popular Clover device to marry up on such an arrangement will benefit both companies, said Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, Calif.-based payments consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC.

"It can be a big game-changer for Clover because it opens the restaurant segment in a new way," Crone said. "People have a phone in their hands already, so it speeds up table turnover, it gets Clover merchants the customer information they need, and it gives them a contact point to eliminate friendly fraud with card payments in a restaurant. If you pay with your phone, you can't say you weren't there."

It's also a leap forward for Apple Pay because it indicates Apple has developed a way to extend the use of Apple Pay through QR codes, Crone added.

"Unlike in Europe, where employees carry the terminal around, here in North America we don't have pay-at-table terminals," he said. "Part of the growth factor of mobile payments outside of the U.S. has been the ability to pay contactless at the table at all of the restaurant venues."

Any sort of advancement with QR codes also helps restaurants become part of what has been a massive acceptance of the technology for mobile payments through Alipay or WeChat Pay with Chinese consumers and tourists. That avalanche of popularity has aroused more interest for merchants who increasingly view the technology as a way to alleviate payments friction and smooth over the customer experience.

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