For Touradj Barman, solving problems has been a fascination since childhood. The California native brought that curiosity to college as an undergrad at prestigious MIT. In fact, he has gone on to become an accomplished inventor with over 20 issued patents.
So, it came as no surprise that Barman had the vision to see that the smartphone could solve two of a restaurant’s biggest issues. It began in 2017 with solving the discomfort among patrons and waitstaff over splitting a check and having to wait to pay it, then it gained prominence nationally as a contactless Covid payment solution in 2020.
Upon his return to his native San Diego after graduation, Barman would find himself launching several software startups. “I live in the middle of downtown San Diego and eat out with friends all the time. I really just thought there’s got to be a better way to split and pay the check.” It was his personal experience and a conversation with a friend who owned a local restaurant that would spark what has become a truly iconic hospitality solution.
In 2017, Barman, and Matt Hoyt, the owner of the landmark San Diego restaurant, Starlite, and Toledo-based web developer Scott Webber, got together to solve a problem that has been frustrating restaurant patrons and the hospitality industry for years: the checkout process.
The trio of Barman, Hoyt and Webber developed a mobile payment solution using Hoyt’s popular restaurant as a real-world environment to test and perfect their product. Starlite proved to be the perfect testing ground as it uses NCR Aloha as its restaurant point-of-sale (POS) system. That would prove to be crucial to the company’s growth as NCR and its competitor Micros control significant market share in the nation’s restaurant POS marketplace. Aloha was so impressed with the Up n’ go solution that Up n’ go became an official integration partner with Aloha. That would then lead to direct integration with Oracle’s Micros POS as well.
“As we went through the process, my technology and software background proved to be really valuable,” Barman added. “You need to look at the restaurant’s POS system as a river. There are all of these third-party programs: loyalty, inventory management, delivery, reservations that are plugged in and flow through the POS. I could see early on that we were going to have to make the technical side of Up n’ go work in a complicated environment like that.”
With the nation’s restaurants scrambling this past year to implement new safety protocols, contactless payments has moved to the top of operators’ agendas. As a result, Up n’ go is now utilized in 1,000 restaurants in 49 states. These include well-known restaurant chains P.F. Chang’s, True Food Kitchen, Ocean Prime, and Din Tai Fung among others. Last October, Up n’ go surpassed one million payments, and it will surpass two million payments this month.
The foundation for the growth is the ease of Barman’s solution. Guests simply scan a QR code on their check using their iPhone or Android camera. That enables them to split their check among their party, and quickly pay on Up n’ go’s mobile site using Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, or any major credit card, and leave without waiting for their server to return.
Restaurant guests across the nation love the simplicity of the system. Patrons don’t have to download an app, register for an account, or provide any personal information to use Up n’ go – they just point their smartphone camera at a QR code on their check and they can pay in under 15 seconds. “We wanted to remove all the friction that might get in the way of anyone quickly paying with our service,” said Barman.
“QR codes have been around for a long time, and they have been excessively popular in other markets like China, but the Covid crisis has served as the catalyst for their mainstream debut in the US,” he explained. “Like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, QR codes existed for years before they caught on, but they’re not a fad and are here to stay.”
In addition to the ease of payment for customers, savvy operators have embraced the tension that Up n’ go alleviates for their waitstaffs. “With many states still limiting indoor dining capacity, the value of each table turn to the bottom line has been magnified,” Barman added. “Table availability is at even more of a premium than before the pandemic, and now it’s a widespread problem, and not just one for busy restaurants.” The time savings for staff not having to make that extra trip to the table, and not having to charge five credit cards for a complicated split check are icing on the cake.
In case studies, restaurants using Up n’ go see guests leave on average 20 minutes sooner than when they pay a server directly. With enough parties waiting, the saved time leads to incremental, high margin revenue for restaurants. “We have a group of breakfast restaurants in Northeast: Turning Point. They have 19 locations serving breakfast, lunch and brunch. We went to their Hoboken, NJ location to analyze two months of data. We found that customers paying with Up n’ go paid an average of 20 minutes sooner.”
Up n’ go’s growth has also been built on its ability to listen to changing needs of its customer base. With so much dependence on Takeout & Delivery through the Pandemic, the Golden State firm launched Text-the-check™. “This lets servers text the check to a diner just by entering the guest’s mobile phone number into the restaurant’s point of sale system,” Barman noted.
Text-the-check™ is used primarily when guests call-in to place to-go orders, but also has applications in drive-thru environments and inside the restaurant. The service has been an immediate success with consumers – over 85 percent of guests who receive a text with a secure Up n’ go payment link proceed to pay with their phones.
Up n’ go’s success has been driven by the comfort that smartphone users now have in completing transactions online for many aspects of daily life. From confirming their vaccine appointments to ordering on Amazon or picking up dry cleaning the transition to contactless payment has been relatively seamless. “We created Up n’ go as a solution that we would want to use, and we’ve accomplished that,” Barman concluded.
To learn more, visit the Up n’ go website at their website.