It's not free, it just feels like it.
"I don't want to know the price of my drugs while I'm doing them," says Mark Egerman, summing up the appeal of his company's mobile phone app, Cover.
Egerman is the co-founder of Cover, which launches in San Francisco today at around two dozen restaurants, including Coi, Alta CA, Kin Khao, and 15 Romolo. The app, which is already in use in New York City, lets diners pay their checks without ever taking out their wallets—or seeing the bill. Says Egerman, "You never want to feel like you're walking into a restaurant to exchange money for goods and services, but at the very end you have this very transactional experience. And generally the worst dining experience are when you feel rushed at the end, or you can't get a waiter's attention."
"It's like when you get out of a Lyft or an Uber, and you go, oh my god, that's it. We want the same feeling," says Egerman, who before building a mobile payment system worked for Elizabeth Warren in setting up the federal Consumer Protection Agency. Cover's already been in stealth use at a few locations around town, including Alta CA—which, since it happens to be across the street from Twitter's headquarters, Egerman admits is an easy sell.
When using Cover, patrons don't ever see a check. They activate it when they enter the restaurant, and their bill is automatically charged at the end of the meal. That's makes things more efficient for the waitstaff—no swiping credit cards—and faster for the patrons. Cover makes its money off taking a flat rate cut from the restaurants.
Egerman is quick to point out that—unlike Airbnb—it doesn't allow the restaurant to circumvent taxes. "We're not trying to break the rules and then ask forgiveness later." He figures that using Cover is a way for members of the 90th percentile to feel like members of the One Percent: "You think if you're a hedge fund guy going to Michael Mina that you see a check? There's that very old fashioned idea that you're money's no good here. We're democratizing that."