Austin-developed app helps you open and pay off your bar tab
'TabbedOut' can be used in several Austin restaurants and bars to avoid waiting on a restaurant check or bar tab
Bar-hop in Austin long enough and you will eventually get that knot in your stomach one morning when you realize you left your credit card at a bar. Your tab was open.
Because software developers are making sure all-too-human foibles are solved by mobile apps, one soon appeared: TabbedOut, from local firm ATX Innovation Inc., debuted in January.
It got a stress test in March during South by Southwest Interactive when many out-of-town geeks were delighted to discover they could open a bar tab and pay it with their iPhone or Android device. (Geeks love stuff like that.)
The app works at Austin bars and restaurants including Jeffrey's, Rio Rita, Mohawk and Dog and Duck Pub as well as venues in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Chico, Calif., and Canton, Ohio.
It's free to download, but charges $1 per tab. The company's CEO and co-founder Rick Orr says some bars and restaurants are offering discounts to TabbedOut customers to offset that fee.
Orr and Devid Lemley, the company's chief technical officer, are veterans of several security software and credit card-related companies. We spoke to Orr and Lemley about the app:
American-Statesman: Once you decided to develop 'TabbedOut,' how long did it take to create it, and what were the biggest challenges in getting it up and running?
Rick Orr: TabbedOut was born out of a long closeout experience at a local restaurant about eight years ago where it took 55 minutes to finally close out after receiving my bill. From that experience, I recognized that the closeout process at bars and restaurants had a lot of room for improvement for both the merchant and the customer. Once we validated our design with our first point-of-sale partner, Jumpware POS — also based in Austin — we spent the first few months focusing purely on the infrastructure that makes the app possible. A highly secure way to remove plastic from the equation was key to our model. We currently support both iPhone and Android devices, with BlackBerry planned for later this year. TabbedOut is in six cities today and our focus is on national expansion.
Were there specific things about Austin that made it the ideal city to launch an app like this?
Orr: Austin is simply the best place to find top-notch talent with the start-up mentality necessary to take an idea and turn it into a compelling business. Furthermore, I can't fathom finding better local merchants to work with in launching new technology like ours. From Shangri-La to Polvo's, our earliest merchants not only let us launch at their venues but also helped drive product decisions to best suit the needs of their management, staff and, of course, customers.
The app got a lot of attention during South by Southwest Interactive. Was it the perfect storm for a geek-friendly app that can be used in places where people from out of town wanted to drink and party?
Orr: We enjoyed participating as an exhibitor at SXSWi, and we were impressed with how our early adopters immediately got it. Austin and those from the industry that visit during SXSW are great evangelists and sounding boards for new technology like TabbedOut.
You've said that your company's not just working on apps, but a whole platform for restaurants and bars. What do you think the future of eating out and drinking will be like once everyone has a phone that can run apps like this?
David Lemley: I expect the paradigm for the way people interact with bars and restaurants to shift to an experience where location-based services meet with a more secure and convenient way to pay. This is important for the merchants who are trying to maximize efficiencies as well as the patron that not only wants the best deal he or she can get but ultimately wants control of when he or she can leave. Mobile applications are the conduit to the patron, but our platform is what makes it easy and attainable for thousands of bars and restaurants.
What kinds of security problems does TabbedOut help prevent?
Lemley: Arguably the most prominent source of fraud is from what is known as the "waiter attack," where someone takes a photo, an imprint or the actual mag-stripe data from a credit/debit card. By removing plastic from the equation and never storing any payment information on our servers, TabbedOut alleviates this common attack. TabbedOut's security design focuses on ensuring that the cardholder data is private between only the patron and the merchant's point-of-sale. Additionally, measures are taken to prevent sensitive information from being extracted from lost or stolen customer devices (such as phones).
Has there been any talk of incorporating TabbedOut technology with any of the popular social media services like Facebook or location-based social media services like Foursquare or Gowalla?
Orr: We have listened to our customers on this topic and are excited to begin adding select integrations with social media and location-based services in an upcoming release.
Are there situations where you wouldn't recommend using TabbedOut? Like, say, if you're really interested in chatting with an attractive bartender or waitstaff member and don't want to bypass any conversation with them?
Orr: We have found that TabbedOut can have a VIP effect in some cases where showing your phone to open a tab actually gives the patron some priority. One reason for this is that each venue is able to set a minimum and default tip amount in our system. Using TabbedOut lets the server know that you are not only tech-savvy but also plan to give a good tip.
Available for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android phones and devices.
Free to download, charges $1 fee per tab. (First three tabs are free)
There's a creator for that
We're taking a look at developers of mobile applications (or ‘apps') in this new series. If you have suggestions on Central Texas-created apps we should profile, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.