This week I walked into the Islington branch of Wahaca, a chain of Mexican restaurants in the capital, ordered some food, ate it, and walked out again without asking for a bill. It was easy, it felt good, and it was so much quicker than waving down that harried-looking young waiter. I would, in fact, recommend you try it yourselves some time.
Now, before you mark me down as one of those bad eggs who goes around dining and dashing, I should say, I paid my way – only I used an app, rather than waiter and card machine, to do it.
Let me explain. Before I arrived, I downloaded the FlyPay app, which this week has received a £1m injection of venture-capital money. I went into the restaurant, ordered more taquitos than was strictly necessary, availed myself of a cocktail or three and then got ready to waddle out into the night, satisfied and woozy.
Now, at this point, the let's-try-and-get-the-waiter's-attention game usually begins. We've all evolved ways of minimising the boredom involved in this. The brave walk over and tap the waiter on the shoulder when they make a pit stop at the till; my father fixes his gaze onto a passing member of staff and makes the international sign for "can I have the bill, please" (right hand, formed as if holding a pen, writing across a raised left hand), much to my amusement.
Or else, you just do what most others of us do: flail your arms a bit, wait, and become increasingly grumpy. Even if you have waiting staff who are so deft and charming as to be deserving of an OBE, this is never anything but a pain. The 10 minutes which a recent survey suggested it takes, all told, to sort the bill is time wasted – and that isn't good service.
Not so at Wahaca, though. Here, the process is painless. All I needed to do was scan a QR code affixed to the table I was sitting at and in seconds I had the whole bill, itemised and with the option to leave a tip, on the phone in front of me. For my sins, I was picking up the tab for three of us, but had I not been, my companions could have each scanned the code, too, and we could have split it any which way we fancied. To pay, you punch in your four-digit Flypay code, and it charges the card whose details you've previously saved to it, and then you up and leave.
It is at this point that I expected a little embarrassment. How would they know that we had paid? Would some large-armed fleet-of-foot floor manager come and yank us back in? I certainly felt a tingle of the illicit as we left (well, it was either that or one too many margaritas). But nada. No pavement scene, nothing (the table, I later learnt, "closes" on the computer that the staff use to keep tabs on orders when you hit the pay button). It was a dream.
Perhaps you think it churlish to complain about having to wait around for a few minutes for a bill. But, consider this, if one eats out two to three times a week, as I do, and spend 10 minutes each night messing about trying to sort it, that works out at 26 hours each year. More than a day waiting to hand over my hard-earned cash! I hope then, that Flypay catches on, and then I can get some of my life back. There's just one thing I'll miss if restaurant bills go the way of the Marcel Wave and the Sinclair C5 and disappear – and that's my father's bill-paying hand signals.Reuse content