Thursday 23 June 2011

Pasta and PayPal

I normally try and avoid chain eateries, but I made an exception last night to check out the new mobile PayPal payment mechanism at Pizza Express. The Richmond Pizza Express is an interesting fitout in huge space at ground level in an curious stripey building that looks like it was originally built in the 1920s. This design conceit was echoed in the china as in this saucer.

For those unfamiliar with this chain, the quality of the food is a definite step up from the internationals and the decor is usually quirky and different at each location. This one has crazy round booths and black and white Italian movies projected in loops on the end walls.

Payment works via an iPhone app only at the moment, developed by 2ergo. I'm not keen on the user experience of the app in general, but the payment mechanism is very cool indeed. It is deeply integrated into the point of sale system. When you get your bill it has a long number at the bottom. You type this into the app and up comes your bill - really quickly. You add your tip and authenticate with PayPal, agree the sum to be paid, and that's it. You may now leave the restaurant, the app says.

I didn't as it struck me that I'd have half the staff running after me if I did so. As it happened I had a surprised waitress appear saying that the payment had popped up at her when she started entering someone else's order.  All very smooth and efficient. And astoundingly fast.

What was striking was the huge step difference in user experience from credit cards and banking. This is user-centric and design-conscious payment, not something that comes at you in the battle-hardened-we-don't-trust-you way of conventional systems.  No clunky hardware interfaces. No bits of paper. All electronic and all filed away conveniently. And by the way, did I mention that it was fast?

One thing the app didn't let me do was request a change of movie. My end of the restaurant was projecting the incredibly sad Ladri di Bicilette, a grim tale of poverty in post-war Rome totally unsuited to the cheery venue and the conspicuous consumption of good food.

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