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Mastercard’s ‘Open Tab’ makes it easier to close out

Brady Porche

Paying your tab at a packed, understaffed bar can be a drag on a fun outing, but Mastercard wants to change that.

The payment network in February announced a new feature in its Qkr! with Masterpass mobile payment app that allows users to open and close a restaurant or bar tab without giving a card to a server or even waiting for the check. The “Open Tab” feature also lets you split a bill with friends à la the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo.

It’s a relief to anyone who has had to jostle to the front of a crowded bar to pay as others wait for one swamped bartender to round up their next drinks. The new feature also prevents you from inadvertently walking your tab or leaving your card behind — not hard to do if you’ve enjoyed lots of toasts.

Bundled with the Masterpass digital wallet, the Qkr app allows faster payments at participating merchants and includes loyalty offers. It can be used to place and pay for an order ahead of time at some stores — much like popular pay-ahead apps offered by Starbucks and a handful of restaurants.

The Qkr app is currently available in Australia, Colombia, Mexico and the U.K., but Mastercard is expanding it to the U.S., Canada and five other countries this year. Mastercard said Open Tab would be available to restaurants this summer.

So, will the “virtual tab” concept catch on in America? Mobile payments have had a tough time gaining ground on traditional methods such as cash and cards. Pay-ahead apps haven’t been without their flaws — Starbucks has experienced traffic jams at its stores and an app by TGI Friday’s has led to order mix-ups.

It’s not hard to see slow adoption for Mastercard’s Open Tab in the U.S., particularly in bars. You can’t really avoid going to the counter if you want to imbibe at a place that doesn’t offer table service. If you’re already there, why not just hand over your card and close out when you order your last drink? Also, forgetting your card at a bar is less of a problem these days since many places can keep your tab open without holding on to a card.

On the other hand, enabling customers in the same party to split a bill could prove to be Open Tab’s biggest advantage. Venmo, which processed $17.6 billion in payments last year, is growing so quickly that a bunch of top-tier banks are working on a competitor app called Zelle. Friends who want to take turns buying rounds at a bar no longer need to have separate tabs open — they can put everything on one bill and work it out amongst themselves when it’s time to leave. (Much to the delight of the server.)

A virtual tab also doesn’t require you to tap your phone against a card machine while standing in a checkout line — a deal-breaker for many shoppers. Meanwhile, few of us can make it through an entire trip to a restaurant or a bar without pulling out our phones at least once. Paying your bill virtually between social media check-ins and food pics could become part of the routine.

Mobile wallets have met with resistance among U.S. consumers because many of us are just fine paying with our cash and our cards. But if virtual tabs like Mastercard’s bring more convenience to the dining and bar experience, patrons across the country will raise their glasses and say “cheers.”

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