T.G.I. Friday's App Lets Guests Pay Via Smartphone

T.G.I. Friday's guests are tapping into the casual-dining chain's smartphone app and then tabbing out.

Friday's is the first casual-dining chain to offer a smartphone application that lets guests start a tab from their iPhone or Android, track it on the device and close it out without a waiter. It is part of the app called "My Friday's Tab."

"This new app puts the Friday experience at guests' fingertips — whether they're looking for the closest Friday's to celebrate and indulge, or if they want to pay their bar tab quickly," Ricky Richardson, chief operating officer at Carrollton, Texas-based T.G.I. Friday's, said in a statement when the app was released in April.

The pay-at-table function is offered at about 300 of Friday's more than 900 restaurants. The app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store or the Android App Market. The mobile payment function is powered by Austin, Texas-based Tabbedout and was developed by Carlson IT, Illume Mobile and Click Here Inc., a division of Friday's ad agency, The Richards Group of Dallas. The app technology integrates with Friday's point-of-sale software without additional hardware, the company said.

T.G.I. Friday's also recently launched a new website design that provides a mobile-friendly experience for smartphone users.

Nation's Restaurant News spoke with Trey Hall, Friday's chief marketing officer, about the pay-at-the-table function and the app.

What was the thinking behind the app?

We have all the functionality that other apps have in terms of the menu and drink selection, how do you get to the restaurant, how you locate. Those are all important parts of the app, and what consumers expect. But we also wanted our app to be unique and different and have a real daily purpose. Paying at the table is one of those things that a lot of people are exploring, whether it be through tablets or other pieces of equipment on the table or other means. ... We wanted to give consumers something new and exciting and something very, very useful that they could use every day, so My Friday's Tab was developed as part of this solution.

What has the response been?

We're up to 70,000 downloads so far. The technology works really well, and the consumer feedback has been very, very favorable. ... It is obviously part of our digital strategy going forward, to enable consumers to use and interact with our brand using mobile devices.

How does a customer use the app at the restaurant?

Before you go in or while you are sitting there, you need to sign up for My Friday's Tab. You input a credit card [number], and then from there on out you never have to do that again. Once you sign up, you open the tab [and] you are given a five-digit code. You tell the server that you are going to be using My Friday's Tab, and they'll go, "Thank you very much. Give me your five-digit code," and they'll put that into the POS.

From then on out, as you order and as you interact with the server and add more things to your tab, you'll see that come right up. You can see how much you are spending and all that great stuff. Then you can close the tab. As you close the tab, you are asked to add a tip. The recommended amount is 18 percent. But because you are at Friday's and have had such an amazing experience, you want to tip. In fact, that's happening. The recommended tip is 18 percent, but we're finding the average tip amount is like 21 percent. It's great for the servers.

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And the receipt?

You can have the receipt emailed to you. You can keep track of how you are spending. You can split checks.

Where does credit card information reside?

It's all encrypted. It does not reside on the phone. The safety is very sound. If you should lose your phone, nobody could get in there and pull out your credit card information. I think people have a concern because it's new technology, and it's not just with My Friday's Tab. ... It's new technology; there is that latent concern. Once you actually do it and you see how easy, simple and safe it is, consumers will be using it more and more.

Is there a type of consumer that is adapting to the technology more readily than others?

I'm a Boomer. I'm a little slower at adapting to technology versus our Millennial guests. I don't have specific demographic data, but our belief and observations have been that Millennials are taking care of this faster than other folks.

What is the business case for offering an amenity like this?

It's about consumer engagement. Consumers are demanding that brands they are involved with today give them more engagement and keep them involved with the brand more. The business case is taking care of current needs and taking care of the future needs and wants with our guests. Millennials are one of our big focus areas, and we want to make sure our brand is interacting with them the way they want to be interacted with.

Where is mobile headed in general?

This is not only where Friday's is going but where the world is going in using the mobile phone as a payment device. Mostly, people are just excited about having options and having more control. We didn't want to put a device on the table for payments, because we believe — and we have consumer research to show this — that the experience is so great that we don't want to have a little terminal on the table to divert you from the energy that's going on in the restaurant. ... Using the mobile device gives the consumers flexibility and choice and they can use it as they see fit in their experience.

Are there any concerns with the app?

It's like having a party, and you wonder if anybody will come. Many are using it. This is just the start. We have a list of releases for the rest of year. Our next step is to integrate the "Give Me More Stripes" [Friday's loyalty program] more thoroughly and robustly. ... We want the Friday's app to be a useful tool for consumers. In very short order, you will have the same experience on the app as in the online experience.

What was the biggest hurdle in developing the app?

We were privileged to get to work with a number of partners that worked really well together. That's always the biggest concern: Can you get different pieces of technology to work together? These things aren't like puzzle pieces that were designed to fit together. You have to choose partners that are willing to work with you to make all these pieces work seamlessly together.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless