HouseTab Stakes Out a Social Spot in Mobile Payments

6/10/14Follow @jpruth

Ever want to buy a drink for a pal at a bar? What if that friend is across town?

HouseTab, based in New York, has developed a mobile app that makes that all possible at participating restaurants and other establishments.

Released in late May for Apple’s iOS, HouseTab is not the first mobile payments app for the hospitality industry, but it brings a social element to the table. Tonight, the company plans to show off the app at a launch event with the press. HouseTab’s users can chat with friends who also have the app to figure out which night spots they want to visit together. The app shows which venues those friends have checked-in to and lets users send food or drinks at those establishments.

And, yes, the HouseTab app can also be an icebreaker that lets users order and send drinks to potential new friends who catch their eye. CEO Andrew Tauber says that feature is reliant upon both people being at the same venue and setting their privacy settings open to allow HouseTab users they do not know to initiate contact. “There is a Tinder-esque, dating application,” he says.

People can choose to accept or decline the drink or food that has been ordered for them.

For owners of the participating restaurants and bars, the app can be a way to offer deals and incentives to frequent patrons or folks who have not visited in a while. “That way merchants can get in front of customers in? ways they have not been? able to before,” says Tauber. Moreover, customers can pay their tabs from their mobile phones and leave without tying up the wait staff.

The company already has rivals such as TabbedOut in Austin, TX, and Cover in New York, which make apps that let people clear their dining checks from their phones and go. Cover, for instance, specializes in letting friends at the same table split the bill through its app. HouseTab tries to differentiate itself by going social and showing what is happening across the users’ networks of friends.

All of these apps, though, share a dependence on getting more venues onboard with the idea of letting patrons make mobile payments. So far, HouseTab is available for use at 15 establishments in New York, Tauber says, with drink and food menus from each available through the app.

Tauber says as smartphones drive many social interactions nowadays, HouseTab saw an opportunity. “To get people to engage in mobile payments, it’s got to be more than allowing a merchant to send me a bill,” he says.

HouseTab can let people see where their friends are already hanging out, Tauber says, and possibly send them a drink while they are waiting.

Officially founded in 2012, HouseTab is thus far backed by funding from friends and family. The company is developing on an Android-based version of the app, Tauber says. He joined HouseTab last July to help get the app to market. Previously he was a banker at Merrill Lynch who covered such areas as cable, digital media, and broadcasting.

Tauber believes there is potential for HouseTab to expand into other types of markets as the app develops. “It could extend beyond bars and restaurants,” he says, “to gifting of any kind as long as you have a social connection between users.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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