6 Apps That Save You Money at Restaurants and Make Dining Easier

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
May 14, 2014
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Dining out is always fun, but figuring out the bill is not. It requires waiting and math, two things that no human who has consumed half a bottle of wine should be subjected to. 

We’ve rounded up some of the most helpful restaurant finance apps, whether they’re meant to facilitate easy payment or pickup, help you find deals nearby, or calculate how much individuals in a party owe. Prepare to learn how to dine and pay like a boss.

1. Square Order

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This week Square retired Wallet, an app that allowed you to pay for restaurant or café transactions with your phone, and debuted a new app, Order, in its place. The free app allows customers to request and pay for food and drink from participating nearby restaurants, so they can later pick them up without having to wait in line. Order uses your location to automatically populate the businesses closest to you, and estimates how long it’ll take for your food to be ready. 

At its core, Order is not unlike the “pickup” feature in Seamless’ food-ordering app. But since it’s available only in San Francisco and New York, its reach is much smaller. But from the looks of its minimalist design and current participating vendors, it seems to be aiming at a much more refined fleet of establishments — the kind that sell lavender lattes and homemade macaroons.

Get it on iOS or Android (in beta).

2. Venmo

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Dining out with friends is fun, until the check comes and you have to sheepishly ask a server to split your bill between five credit cards. Venmo makes the stress of that whole transaction disappear, by allowing you to send whatever (reasonable) amount of money you want to a friend (or her phone number).

It’s helpful in situations where a business takes only cash, you forgot your wallet, or you just want to simplify the bill paying.

The best part is that it’s free for all debit card transactions. When you receive the money, you can either choose to cash out (and deposit it into your own bank account) or keep it there for future Venmo transactions. And if you so choose, those transactions filter into a friend feed that allows you to see your transaction history and which of your friends is paying for what.

If enough of your friends use it, the amount of credit you have in your Venmo account becomes almost fluid, being depleted and replenished by the natural cycle of urban nightlife.

Get it on iOS or Android.

3. Scoutmob

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If you live in New York, you’ve likely found yourself wandering around an unfamiliar neighborhood, looking for a good place to eat or drink. Scoutmob partners with local businesses to make restaurant suggestions and offer discounts. It’s a helpful tool to prevent you from moseying into a random establishment and paying $15 for a meh cocktail. Plus, you can try a new place out while also saving money. 

But beware, while a big fat 50 percent off deal might seem attractive, you often won’t be able to use them in conjunction with things like happy hour or gift certificates, and some deals don’t work on weekends.

Get it on iOS or Android.

4. Plates

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Though Plates doesn’t actually allow you to directly pay for a meal with your phone, it will help your dinner party figure out the amount each individual owes.

The free app’s visual-heavy design lets you assign the cost of certain items on the bill to each person, then calculates the amount of tax and tip that each diner owes. It would be awesome if, from there, you could just send a bill to each person’s inbox, but alas, the app isn’t there yet. 

Get it on iOS.

5. Savored

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Like Scoutmob, Savored is an app for anyone on the hunt for a good deal. The service, which is powered by Groupon, is like an OpenTable for discounted meals: The site allows you to search for restaurants by time and location in a wide selection of major U.S. cities where you can get a discount of up to 40 percent automatically applied to your bill.

The catch? The size of your discount is based on what time you dine.

So if you just happen to be going for the early-bird special, you might get close to half off your meal. But if you’re aiming for something during peak dining times, that amount can drop to 20 percent or lower.

The discount is applied to your check, so there’s no need to pull out your phone; occasionally the server will forget, and you’ll have to remind him that you made the reservation through Savored to get your deserved discount. 

Get it on iOS or Android

6. LevelUp

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You could very well be using LevelUp without knowing it. The free app is a payment system that gives you a specific QR code, with which you can earn loyalty points and pay for food and drinks from within the app. Any participating business can use a LevelUp scanner to read your identity and process your digital transaction.

In many cases, businesses you frequent will integrate their own apps with the technology and use it as a customer loyalty card. I, for instance, have been using Organic Avenue’s LevelUp-enabled app to quickly pay for pre-made salads and smoothies there. (Don’t judge: It’s right next to our office building!) It offers small incentives every time you reach a new spending amount. Though I don’t plan to spend $2,500 just to be rewarded a free day cleanse anytime soon, I can imagine loyalty programs are more practical at less pricey locations.

You can use the base LevelUp app at specific spots to receive global “credit” to your account in the form of a few dollars. That, in turn, can be used at any other LevelUp establishment. It’s a sort of pay-it-forward strategy that encourages you to frequent other participating LevelUp businesses. Best of all, it doesn’t cost anything.

Get it on iOS or Android.

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her here.