Cheq is an application I designed as a personal project, to try and solve one of my personal pet peeves.

One of what I consider to be the worst user experiences in everyday life is splitting the check at a restaurant. In today’s world, a significant percentage of people intend to split checks based on what they eat… and they should be able to!

I did some field research on how young professionals in Boston adjust what they order, and found a a couple very interesting things.

First off, most people definitely do stress about what to order when they’re in a group (so no, it’s not just you!) Second, this pressure typically applies a downward pressure, but rarely an upward pressure: people who are ordering light either to watch their wallets or waistlines (the two main reasons for small, cheap orders) aren’t usually willing to compromise on this, but their companions are usually ready to order less to make them feel more comfortable or make splitting the check less awkward later (the two most common reasons given).

The ability for each person to order what they want without worrying about splitting the check is thus both stress-reducing and profit-increasing; it removes one of the two main reasons people make a smaller order, which also means they don’t have to stress about the decision.

When interviewing people I found that there are a number of ways in which this process fails to meet the average user’s needs including:

  • Ambiguous rules: Most restaurants are unclear on whether a customer will be allowed to split the check on credit cards or not, how many ways they’re willing to split a check, whether they’re willing to do uneven splits, or any other number of possible complications.
  • Difficult to split fairly: Most locations pile items together with no regard for who ordered what. Users are left scribbling notes on napkins or marking items off  Let’s not even get into what happens if the table orders a plate of wings to share!
  • MATH! Let’s assume a group of patrons do manage to split up the check item-by-item (a tedious and conversation-wrecking process). OK, now they have to do math. Because meal tax isn’t included in line-item prices and tip is calculated off that, the users now have n*2 opportunities to make a calculation error (where n is the number of parties at the table).
  • Did you get drinks? Keep in mind, this is all taking place after a long meal and possibly a few rounds of drinks, the absolute last time people want to be dealing with math or record-keeping.

So what was my solution? A smartphone app that allows users to Cheq__v1__-_Proto_io_playermatch themselves to a certain meal’s record using the familiar beacon already present at many restaurants. You can try the prototype for yourself.

Log in (using any userID or a faux facebook auth), enter the number from your beacon or scan a barcode, and then you can see your meal. Your friends have already claimed some items, and you can claim your own items, split existing items, and even let the waitstaff know if something is wrong without having to wait for them to come back. When you’re done, you can quickly see your tax, add a tip, and pay the bill right from your phone (applePay only in this scenario, since I wasn’t really looking to reinvent the credit card payment screen).

The set of interactions available within the app is limited, but my experience and the discussion I had with early test users suggests that a fast and painless process trumps expanded functionalities for this scenario, and that most users would prefer a simple app that just gets out of the way.