Mastercard app enables credit-card-free bar tabs

For better or worse, you can avoid handing your credit card over to your bartender.

Engadget / Cherlynn Low

One of the most worrying things about going to a bar is the possibility that the credit card you handed over to open your tab with might get skimmed, or worse, stolen. Mastercard has a new digital payment tool that will let you open a bar tab through an app so you don't have to hand your credit card over to the bartender. Instead, showing them a 4-digit number (at least, during our demo) on your phone is all you have to do. You can pay for your orders from the app and leave after you're done, without having to sit around and try to catch the bartender's attention.

The new feature isn't available as a standalone tool; instead, it is an option in Mastercard's Qkr app that merchants can activate on their compatible payment systems. So, for instance, if your favorite pub is using a payment terminal that works with Qkr, they'll need to enable the feature. You will then have to download the establishment's app (since Qkr is a white-label service that companies can brand) or find their page on Mastercard's Qkr Marketplace portal to pay for your order.

During a recent briefing, I checked out a prototype of the feature in Qkr Marketplace, which wasn't fully functional yet. The home page displays a list of restaurants around you, and you select the one you're at. Through the simple, colorful interface, you can create a bar tab, and when you're ready to pay, you can claim exactly which food or drink items you want added to your bill.

Your party can also all join in on the app to split the tab, and each person can claim their own items, generating a specific total for each individual. That's very handy, and can reduce time spent waiting at the end of a meal for someone to figure out the math. Of course, since our demo was just a prototype, it's not certain exactly how the tool will operate when it does arrive.

Qkr is already available in several countries, including the US, where restaurant chain Wagamama has integrated Mastercard's bill-sharing feature into its own app. Mastercard says some partners are onboard to start offering the bar tab tool this summer, but it can't share details on who these are just yet. Still, this should excite frequent pubgoers who will welcome the day they no longer have to worry about staying sober enough to remember to close out their tabs.

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