Courtesy of Rooam
Courtesy of Rooam

What if you didn’t have to stand in line to pay your bar tab when you’re buzzed, tired, or in a hurry to get home? That premise spawned a newish payment app called Rooam. CEO Junaid Shams launched Rooam in D.C. in 2016 and will soon expand its reach to Chicago and Los Angeles. It’s available on iPhone and Android.

Rooam allows customers to start and close out a bar or restaurant tab on their phones at participating venues. It’s free to download, and users are asked to link a credit card or Apple Pay to their account. There are about 100 participating businesses in the District and senior market manager Alison Serota says a couple hundred more have signed on and are being processed. 

“There are a bunch of studies that say it takes 8 to12 minutes per transaction for a server to get a check ready and signed,” Serota says. “Eliminating that and letting people leave whenever they want was one of the biggest assets.” If a server takes too long to fetch the check and process it, it can impact both the tip and the customer experience.

There’s one critical step to follow when using Rooam to avoid any possible confusion about “dining and dashing.” Serota says you have to inform your bartender or server at the beginning of a meal or drinking session that you’re using Rooam. Users are able to pay tax and tip through the app.

One of Rooam’s biggest venues is The Anthem at The Wharf. “We’re the only way that you can open a tab there,” Serota says. Otherwise you have to close out with each transaction. “They’re cashless already, so it was a no-brainer move.” 

The Rooam website boasts that both José Andrés’ restaurant group (ThinkFoodGroup) and Neighborhood Restaurant Group are participants. Both declined to comment on how things are going with Rooam so far. But restaurateur Mike Bramson of Provision No. 14 and La Vie is familiar with it.

“I use it myself,” he says. “The process is efficient and connects seamlessly with point of sales systems. We just installed Rooam at Provision, but haven’t fully utilized it yet with our customers. We plan to start using Rooam at all our locations within the next few months.” The Social Restaurant Group partner thinks the app makes the most sense at busy bars where closing out can be a real pain point.

Serota says Rooam is currently focused on user adoption. “What were hoping is to see Rooam everywhere,” she says. “We want the app to be just like Lyft and Uber.”