Free Enterprise Staff  | November 3, 2015

Separate Checks at Dinner? With SplitNGo, There’s No Need

Splitting the bill at a restaurant is never simple, especially when you’re with a group of people you’re not particularly close with. The amount of time (not to mention the mathematical gymnastics) it takes to split and pay the bill also has a compounding effect: It slows down a restaurant’s turnover rate, meaning they seat fewer people and earn less money than they otherwise would. Enter SplitNGo, a new service that’s fixing this problem.

Though it might seem that everyone these days is creating apps to solve problems, SplitNGo opted against developing an app for its service, explains Andres Sarmiento, the company’s founder and chief executive officer. “We did some research, and we found that when you have interactions that are quick—and that’s precisely what restaurant payments should be—then the one-time effort of downloading and setting up an app tends to be too high for most people,” he tells Free Enterprise.

“We did some tests that revealed people were three times more likely to use the mobile web than to download an app for what they perceived as a quick transaction. That has been key for us: We make paying at a restaurant much simpler, and we make it much faster.”

By forgoing the standard app treatment, SplitNGo works in a very direct way. When diners sit down for a meal at a restaurant that’s partnered with the company, they’re given a card alerting them to a website that will show them their bill in real-time, displaying up-to-the-minute information for anything and everything they order.

The site lets users quickly select and pay for their individual items without having to do all the complicated math and contend with the interpersonal politics that often arise when dividing a bill in a large group. “Once you visit the site, it tells you to type in your table code, which is also on your card. From there, you immediately see your bill,” Sarmiento says.

“There’s no need to go and download or set up an app. You just go to the website, and you get to see your bill without even doing anything. If you choose to pay, you can click the pay button, which will ask you for your credit card. The site lets you quickly scan your card with your phone. Once it’s in, you hit pay, and that’s it. It takes one minute to process your payment, and you can even save your payment information, so you’ll only need a pin code to pay the next time you use SplitNGo.”

While SplitNGo undoubtedly makes the payment process more efficient for consumers, it also has a tangible effect on a restaurant’s bottom line. Getting more bodies in the door is important for any business, though it’s especially critical in the restaurant industry, which has notoriously low profit margins. The service, Sarmiento points out, enables restaurants to increase their turnover rates by as much as 20%. For many of the restaurants SplitNGo partners with, that kind of increased foot traffic translates into a quantifiable and proportional jump in revenue.

Intrigued? We certainly were, so we reached out to Sarmiento to learn more about the company. Here’s what he had to say during a recent interview with Free Enterprise.

Where are the restaurants you partner with, and what’s the response been like?

At this point, we’re only in Boston, but the response has been very positive from restaurants here. We’re waiting to get more strength in the Boston market before we expand. As of now, we have partnered with restaurants in what we call the core area of the city: Allston, Cambridge, and Boston.

Perhaps Anton Ego, a notoriously cruel food critic from the 2007 Disney/Pixar film “Ratatouille,” was cranky because of his frustration with how long it takes to pay the bill at restaurants. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

How does SplitNGo work from a restaurant’s perspective? 

It works similarly to how restaurants work with credit card companies. After a customer pays, restaurants get the money afterwards—in a few business days—but it’s all integrated into their system. So, as soon as someone pays with SplitNGo, they get notified. Then boom, it’s done. They don’t need any hardware on their end. It’s just done.

When did you first launch the service, and how do you make money?

We sell ourselves as an efficiency service, and for that we charge our customers a monthly fee. It’s fixed, so the more they use our service, the more they’ll benefit from it. The fee depends on a number of factors, including how big the business is, and if it belongs to a group or a chain.

Do you plan on expanding into other industries?

No, we don’t. We believe that the payment space has a lot of smart players that are doing great things—the Venmos, the Squares, the PayPals. What’s going to be hard for them is to understand each industry in an in-depth way.

We want to be a partner for payment platforms, to help them gain a deeper foothold into the restaurant industry. We want to develop new products and features, but everything we create needs to fill some need on the restaurant’s end of the equation. Our goal is to add value to a restaurant’s bottom line, which is something we feel we know inside and out.

How do you respond to critics of SplitNGo?

Some people think that services like SplitNGo are going to make jobs disappear. We actually don’t believe in that trend at all, at least for the restaurants we want to target.

We believe that going out for dinner is an experience; it’s not about just getting fed. Restaurants are a place where you get pampered, you get service, and you value that service. We want to help casual restaurants provide a certain level of service that is similar to high-end restaurants—only at a fraction of the staffing cost.

The fact that restaurants don’t have to deal with the payment transaction process in terms of so many trips to the table, that means they can spend a lot more time on trips to the table that matter the most to you—welcoming you, offering you the specials of the day, the wine pairings that you want, etc.—as opposed to you having to call the waiter a number of times to ask and pay for your bill.

We believe in restaurant service, and we believe that using your own device makes much more sense than using a device at the table that you don’t exactly trust.