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Poquitos leads wave of Capitol Hill bars where you can order, pay with your smartphone

I guess it makes sense that Austin-based Tabbedout would choose Capitol Hill’s Poquitos as basecamp for their Seattle launch — Capitol Hill smushed into a taco (metaphorically) is pretty much Austin, right?

The Tabbedout mobile phone app (in iPhone and Android flavors) lets you walk into a bar or restaurant, open a tab without reaching for your credit card, eat and drink, and pay — all on your phone. Well, not the eating and drinking part, unless you are messy.

If you have ever waited 20 minutes to pay because your waiter got slammed just as you called for the check, or got stuck in a massive line at the end of a show because everyone is paying at once (or trying to), or have blithely walked out of a bar with your credit card tab open, you can see the benefit.

As it turns out, that’s the benefit for the bar or restaurant as well: running credit cards and receipts back and forth to customers during the busiest times of the night doesn’t generate sales. Automating the payment process lets servers concentrate on serving food and drinks.

Right now, Tabbedout is in Seattle, Austin, and Portland, with Houston and Dallas soon to come. The company, established in 2009, has some 400 merchants signed on, and their software integrates with existing point-of-sale systems. (In Seattle, that’s largely DinerWare.) For a one-time installation fee, Tabbedout will install their software on each POS terminal, and then the fun begins.

Tabbedout merchants on Capitol Hill (and nearby)

  • Auto Battery
  • Central Cinema
  • Grim’s
  • Li’l Woody’s
  • Poquitos
  • Unicorn

Because, unlike other mobile payment options, Tabbedout doesn’t use NFC, there’s no special hardware or swiping. That means it’s possible for you to open a tab at a participating bar without even being there–if you want to chip in for someone’s birthday party remotely, for instance.

Here’s how it works. Download the app, and create a profile with credit card(s) data. When you open a tab, you receive a short code on your phone that you show the server, who uses it to identify you on their sales system. While the tab is open, you’re connected live, and can see your order itemized as you go along. When you close out, you also get an itemized receipt by email. The merchant is allowed to set a minimum tip (which you can adjust up), so no one gets stiffed, and your friends with Tabbedout can also join your tab…if you are blessed with friends who are willing to split the bill.

If you forget to close out, Tabbedout allows the merchant to close you out at the end of the night anyway. The software queries your credit card as you open the tab, so you won’t get stuck with an expired card and a bill. It’s likely you will have enabled a security code for your phone overall, but just in case, you can also set a Tabbedout-specific security code to make sure it’s really you doing the tabbing.

Again, Tabbedout takes care of the payment part. You do all the ordering the usual way. Presently you can search for locations by state and city name, and zip code; as the list of participating venues increases, Tabbedout is going to have to let you drill down a little more–certainly by a search on names. When you open a tab, it also lets you check in with social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, presumably so all your cheapskate acquaintances can hustle over and get in on your largesse.

If you have used Uber before — hey, they’re on Capitol Hill, too — this will all seem familiar to you, especially that thrill of slipping out without dealing with any payment rigmarole. You enjoy yourself, and then you depart.

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11 thoughts on “Poquitos leads wave of Capitol Hill bars where you can order, pay with your smartphone

  1. Hm… this seems like a good idea, and as an Area Technology Worker is certainly one I’ve had myself as a LazyWeb idea. We’ve gone well past the point where ordering and paying electronically is sensible… but I’m wondering about the post-Victoria Liss era privacy/tracking elements of tabbed out, as well as the question of tip. What if anything will the restaurant see about me as a customer? Will I be judged by (or benefit from) my historic level of tipping and spending when I order via TabbedOut?

    If you saw that one episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in the past season when Larry David violated an unspoken restaurant protocol when he just went and got his food from the kitchen window… in a TabbedOut restaurant what *exactly* does the server still do that even warrants a tip? I go to Poquito’s, browse the menu and pay all via a phone app (which is a good innovation); the wait staff simply grabs the food in one place, and brings it to another. Hell, why not just have TabbedOut tell me my food is read and I’ll go grab it myself and save time?

    Why is simply bringing plate A to point B worth 15, sorry 18, sorry 20% of the bill? Will restaurants have an auto-gratuity that’s too high? How do I handle the case where even with TabbedOut, my food is lousy or takes too long?

    I am historically a good tipper (20%) but I’m really kind of tired of that expectation 18-20% expectation for “normal” service, and the passive-aggressive Seattle culture that seems to believe anything less than a 20% tip deserves public scorn, libel or even biological warfare.

  2. As I understand this article, TabbedOut will simply be replacing the server at the register. So instead of waiting for the bill and change, I will be able to initiate pay out when I’m ready to leave and then just depart. You will still rely on the server for ordering, recommendations, comments and generally being looked after. Having worked in food service, the final cheque is usually the time to thank the diners for coming in, etc., so I think it will be an awkward transition for all, but I fully support technology in this realm. I’ve been in crowded bars where it’s taken me forever to close out my tab, especially when I’m a rush to see a concert or a show.

  3. I’d like to know if this opens up a new hole for fraudulent people to use my money. Yes, I was a victim last year (almost a year ago to the day) at Broadway Grill so I’m once bitten now.

    By the way, the second fraudulent use of my card in Philadelphia at 6am (Pacific Time) overdrew my checking account and I had to pay a $22 overdraft fee (only $22 due to being with a credit union not a bank) which was never refunded, although the principal amount of $500 was refunded by VISA.

    Has anyone else here who happened to be a victim of that fraud and subsequently was overdrawn, considered a class action lawsuit against the hackers, or the restaurant?

  4. Get Seconds is a local tech company that has built a much simpler ordering system. First of all you don’t have to download an app (it just works on any smart phone) and second of all you don’t have to negotiate those seemingly endless menu windows. You know what you want. Just text it in. You can either pay with the GetSeconds transaction feature or use whatever system the restaurant accepts. Shez Cafe in Belltown and Molly Salads at the UW campus use it “” and “”. Would be nice if some of the Capitol hill restaurants would adopt this one. I think most would prefer it.

  5. The minimum tip thing is irritating. Poquitos requires an 18% tip (yes, I’ve used Tabbedout there). Tips are earned, not automatically given. This might make more sense in Texas, where tipped workers don’t get paid minimum wage. But in Washington, where it’s the law that tipped workers get paid at least minimum wage, this does not make sense. If a restaurant needs the tip money, they should raise their prices! Tips should be icing, not the cake.

  6. Hi JFD,

    The ‘fee’ you see is not actually a charged fee, only a verification that your card stored within the app is valid. You will see that the pending charge will disappear and NEVER be charged by Tabbedout. Sorry for the confusion and we are working to evolve our card verification platform to validate without the authorization request which is what you are seeing as a pending charge.

    Thanks for trying Tabbedout and let us know what we can do better!

    Rick Orr
    CEO & Co-Founder

  7. Hi FCHD and ‘Guest’,

    With regards to tipping and ordering. Please allow me to clarify a couple of things. Tabbedout doesn’t enable you to order from the phone…we’ve considered this since the start of the company but agree with you that the staff serves too critical a function at full-service bars and restaurants to be replaced. We look at the closeout as the cumbersome part of dining and drinking for patron and staff alike. You may be full, late for a movie/meeting/appointment or, if you are a parent, may have kids tearing the place apart and simply want to go. The server on the other hand doesn’t want you to feel rushed and frankly may not know you are ready to leave.

    Given that we don’t let you order from the phone, the server will have done his/her job throughout the evening and should be paid the standard tip (most staff tell us they get higher tips with Tabbedout because folks value their time and the specials they get by using the app). You, the patron, however, can control your time, get an electronic copy of the receipt, and optionally receive great deals for your loyalty to a business like Poquito’s or choose just use Tabbedout to closeout from the cab ride on your way home.

    At the end of the day, we allow the venue to set the minimum and recommended tip amount according to what their management feels is appropriate. If you wish to pay with cash or credit, that’s completely your option at any point even if you open with Tabbedout; however, we think you’ll like the simplicity and freedom our service allows. If not, please let us know what we can do better.

    We are based in Austin but I worked off of Alaskan way for almost 2 years and absolutely love Seattle. It’s important to me that we meet the individual needs of each market so again let me know what we can do better to make Tabbedout successful in the Emerald City.



    CEO and Co-founder

  8. We believe is significantly safer than using an actual card. Think about it, where else in US society do you hand your card to a stranger for hours at a time but at restaurants and bars. The card associations believe it’s ~40% of fraud typically called the Waiter Attack.

    With Tabbedout you keep your plastic in your pocket and don’t have to worry about leaving it behind or losing it.


    Rick Orr
    CEO & Co-founder