Viableware Enters Pay-at-Table Wars

8/30/11Follow @curtwoodward

Paying for your restaurant tab by handing a credit card over to the server is suddenly sounding so last-decade, now that startups are starting to attack the restaurant payment game with new devices and technologies. I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise with the spread of powerful mobile computing, novel payment devices like Square, and the growing drumbeat for near-field communication “digital wallets” tied to the smartphone.

Kirkland, WA-based startup Viableware is heading into the field too, and just raised a $956,000 round of angel investment to finance its goals. It’s competing with startups like Y Combinator-backed E La Carte, which just raised a new venture round, by developing its own device for processing card payments at the dinner table.

Viableware’s team has experience in technology and the restaurant industry. Co-founder and CEO Joe Snell is a veteran of SPRY, Pantheon, Union-Street.com, and Tamarac, while co-founder and CTO Andrew Pope has worked at CampusCE, Point.com, MarketOrder, and Varolii. The company’s president is Steve Stoddard, former CEO of the multi-state restaurant operator Restaurants Unlimited. LinkedIn lists the startup’s vice president of product development as Bob McBreen, a former Microsoftie who worked on the founding Xbox team and later worked as a tech consultant.

In an e-mail, Snell declined to name the angels involved in the financing round, but said Viableware’s Rail device was headed for testing soon. “The product beta begins in the first week of November at a number of well-known local area restaurants,” he says. “We intend to have a number of live customers before March of next year.”

Viableware says the Rail device is patented—it looks like a traditional credit-card folio you get at the table now, but has computing hardware inside. The device is being developed with Seattle R&D shop Synapse.

The pitch for restaurants is that the device saves on employee labor, delivers a new platform for advertising and loyalty programs, and even saves on transaction fees by letting customers use their PIN on debit card purchases (which can be more expensive for merchants when they’re run like credit cards). Consumers can also feel a little better about not losing sight of their credit cards and getting them “skimmed” by someone in the back.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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