Dickie Brennan is a New Orleans staple, a local business owner whose family has operated restaurants in the Crescent City for decades. A protégé of legendary chef Paul Prudhomme, Brennan is also an early adopter of a new mobile technology he hopes will change the way people dine out.

"Mobile payments puts us in a whole new area of service and security," says Brennan, who is deploying Rail, a mobile payments app from Viableware. He plans to use Rail first at Tableau, a 325-seat restaurant in the French Quarter. Other Brennan restaurants in the city, including Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, Palace Café and Bourbon House, will follow.

Rail is aimed at higher-end restaurants, and attempts to use mobile technology to remove the paper — but not the waiter — from the process of paying for a meal.

"We want the staff to be able to focus on engaging the customers and not on processing cards," Brennan says.

Rail's survey function aggregates survey answers from multiple customers to aid the restaurant in customer service.

"The app gives us the opportunity to get customer feedback and be able to tie the payment to something else, such as marketing or building a relationship with the customer," Brennan says.

Rail's model is different from other food service and restaurant mobile payments products, which focus on self-service. Tabbedout, Snapfinder and the Interac Flash McDonald's pilot in Canada each take aim at restaurant payments.

Rail is a handheld device that looks similar to the leather folders that wait staff use to present the check to patrons. In this case, the folder is a tablet that can be used to accept swiped card payments, calculate tips, split the check, pay by item and send emailed receipts. It also integrates with other restaurant point of sale systems such as Micros, NCR Aloha and Dinerware.

"The user experience is similar to what we are used to, so the upgrade to mobile payments hasn't created a whole new learning curve," Brennan says.

Rail also recently added support for PayPal. For Viableware, the PayPal partnership is part of a strategy to embrace alternatives payment options.

"With PayPal, we are focusing on making it easy to pay. You put in a cell phone number and PIN and that is all it takes to do a secure payment through PayPal," says Joe Snell, CEO of Viableware.

The mix of the Rail mobile app and PayPal also increases security, since consumers aren't actually handing their card over to a staff, Brennan says.

"Someone could leave a card behind, or it could get exposed in some way," Brennan says. "There are always a handful of bad people out there."

Rail uses a security measure called tokenization, which obfuscates card data on the merchant's end while allowing the merchant to track payments to spot trends.

PayPal has made a number of recent moves in the restaurant market, targeting a variety of service levels. PayPal's app lets consumers find nearby shops or restaurants that accept PayPal payments. PayPal has also partnered with NCR to pilot the Pay at the Table experience, where consumers view their bill, order additional food and pay directly through their PayPal app.

The eBay subsidiary is also partnering with TouchBistro to target restaurants in Canada. Customers check in to restaurants with the PayPal mobile app, which sends the account holder's name and picture to the clerk at the point of sale. 

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