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Is The Starbucks App the Final Push For Restaurant Mobile Payments?

Mobile payments in general, for instance Google (GOOG) Wallet, have yet to really take off because they really haven't made the process any easier, says Cover's co-founder Mark Egerman. "Having that on your phone, opening your phone by unlocking it - it's not better for the consumer than swiping the credit card. While the rest of the world moving toward mobile payments, the U.S. is not. One reason [is that] consumers don't get any value for it," Egerman said via the phone. In his prior life, he worked for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Cover also works with full-service restaurants, but instead of hooking up to already established point-of-sale (POS) systems, has created its own payments network for restaurants to sign on to. The company launched to the public in October 2013, having undergone a 13-month private beta testing prior to launch. The app currently has about 75 establishments that it works with in New York.

Egerman says a "few thousand people" are registered with the app and with any given month a few hundred are using it, and likely several times a month. "For average users who use the app regularly, we see people using its two to three times a month," he says.

"It is a behavior change - we strive to make it extremely seamless. The first time is a little different. We've been paying the same way in restaurants," Egerman said, noting the biggest request Cover has had from users is to be available in more restaurants. The company plans to launch in San Francisco in the near future.

The app is processing more than $150,000 a month (March hasn't closed out yet but he expects processing totals to be closer to $200,000 if not over), but Egerman also noted the larger average tip through Cover is about 21.7%. He acknowledges that may be because the app is targeting higher end restaurants, but also notes that "customers appreciate more than anything else convenience. Starbucks understands this," Egerman stated. "Customers don't want an app for the sake of having an app."

Cover users don't have to think about their bill and a primary differentiator from other dining payment apps. When they register for the app, they set their default payment card and tip percentage, which can be changed at any time. Users tell their servers they'd like to use the Cover app and then when the meal is finished, they can get up and go - without having to wait and pay for the bill.

"We are trying improve upon the fine dining experience," Egerman said in a follow-up call. "We are not trying to replace waiters or turn them into robots. We want to complement that and we believe that your phone should stay" in your purse or pocket.

It is this strategy of users not having to take out their phones at all that, according to Egerman, makes Cover's approach to restaurant mobile payments superior.

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