PayPal has announced that over 2,000 UK high street shops and restaurants now accept payment via the company's smartphone app for Android and iOS. It has also added new ways to pay at some large franchises, using just the app.
This includes Prezzo, Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) and Wagamama, who each use different methods through the same PayPal application to accept customer payment.
Order Ahead and Pay at Table have been added to make life much easier for both the diner and waiting staff. And to find out how they work, Pocket-lint was invited to a "lunch safari" to try each of the new methods of payment and the existing "check-in" mode whereby a restaurant can take your order and and charge it to your PayPal account using your face as verification.
Our first port of call was Prezzo, where we ordered a starter using Pay at Table. Once seated, the app noted our location and with a swipe of the PayPal "P" we were given a code number that was unique to us at the time - a PIN if you like. The main bill payer gives his or her code to the waiter and you are ready to order.
The restaurant immediately knows who you are and how you are paying, and as items are ordered they appear in a, sort-of, invoice page on screen. Check out of that page and you've paid and can leave without any of the fuss of having to wait to get the bill, be presented with a payment machine or receive physical change.
You can leave a tip for service through the app itself and even split a bill amongst other PayPal account holders. Add their individual codes into your app as guests and they can now access the bill itself. You can then pay itemised bills specific to what you ordered or split the check an even number of ways. Each payer, in that instance, also gets the chance to set how much of a tip they want to leave individually.
It's eerie just being able to leave without any further interaction with the waiter, but they can see when a bill has been fully paid. And after all, they have your PayPal details so it offers more security for them too.
Our next port of call in the heart of London was GBK, where fine burgers were to be the main course. The payment method chosen this time was the check-in system which ensures that staff only process an order to a PayPal account after verifying faces on their tills, which appear after a customer has checked-in on the app - hence the name.
The app itself did the hard work - once we'd taken a selfie to attach to the account - it knew what system GBK uses and adjusted itself accordingly.
In some respects, this method is the closest you get to a conventional paying experience. We still had to visit the till, although our payment was made digitally and without having to even get the phone out of a pocket. The cashier saw we were who we said, and rang up the order. Simple.
One extra bonus feature we experienced was that as soon as we opened the app on the GBK page a voucher popped up for a free burger. One tapped, it was assigned to our account and therefore already deducted at point of sale.
GBK had been trialling the service at its Richmond branch, which was hugely successful so decided to roll it out to other restaurants in the franchise. One thing we were told though is that it's not that helpful when a PayPal account holder uses a picture of their cat, say, as their avatar. Harder to verify that way.
The last stop was to be Wagamama for dessert. However, we placed our order while still at GBK. The all-new feature of the app allows you to scroll through the menu of a participating restaurant and order your food or drink for a certain time of arrival.
Again, it is presented in the same way as all the other payment methods, so is a seamless experience in the same app we'd been using all day. We scrolled down the list of local vendors in the area, found the Wagamama we planned to visit and placed an order. You will be charged directly and when we arrived at the new venue, there was our fudge cake waiting for us.
We ate it in the restaurant itself, but we could have taken it away instead.
Proof is in the pudding
We used an iPhone 5S for all of our payment trials, but could have used an Android device, iPad, even an iPod touch or older iPhone just as effectively (some would have needed Wi-Fi connections in the vicinity, however). It was important to check out the iPhone most though as, without NFC, it has often been thought to lag behind in mobile payments.
We found that not to be the case at the vendors we visited. In fact, all of our payments were confined to one app, even though they used different methods, and not once did we have to tap our phone to any scanner. The security protection of using it is essentially determined by the phone itself. Lock it with a PIN or fingerprint and you will have to use them to access the specific system and therefore the PayPal app.
Other than that, the rest of use is a doddle. We've never really experienced such an intuitive and speedy system of ordering and paying for lunch before and it's only limitation really, is in how many different brands it works with.
Today's announcement and experience, however, showed us that is something that's rapidly expanding. Other systems from rival payment firms are coming, but it seems that PayPal has a head start with its app.