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Subway, McDonald's, and Other Chains Are Launching Apple Pay Today

Everything you need to know about Apple Pay in restaurants.
Apple / Flick/eblake
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Today Apple launches its highly anticipated mobile payment technology Apple Pay. Banks are already jockeying for customer loyalty within the service, reports The Verge. Will restaurants be lining up to get on board with Apple Pay too?

The answer may well be yes. For the launch, Apple partnered with several restaurant groups and food-related companies, including McDonald's, OpenTable, Subway, Panera, Wegmans, and Whole Foods. Perhaps more will follow suit after these large companies test the waters. Eater spoke with representatives from Subway and McDonald's to find out more about what the Apple Pay rollout process is for restaurants.

As described by The Verge, Apple Pay allows iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and, eventually, Apple Watch users to have credit card information stored on a chip in their phones. A press release from Apple explains how the technology works from a customer perspective:

Apple Pay is designed to protect the user's personal information. It doesn't collect any transaction information that can be tied back to a user and payment transactions are between the user, the merchant and the user's bank ... Apple Pay in stores is fast and easy to use. Simply hold iPhone near the contactless reader while keeping a finger on Touch ID.

There are several reasons why Apple Pay is appealing to these large restaurant and food companies. In the same press release quoted above, Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb emphasizes customer convenience. "We are excited to make it easier and more convenient for our customers to shop at Whole Foods Market ... it offers our shoppers a fast, private and secure check out option at our stores." OpenTable CEO Matthew Roberts has also praised the convenience aspect of Apple Pay. Last month Roberts explained that integrating Apple Pay would allow OpenTable app users a more "seamless" payment experience.

Apple Pay doesn't demand Apple-issued equipment from participating restaurants.

While the launch of Apple Pay has certainly been hyped, from the perspective of chains like Subway and McDonald's, very little investment has been required to become Apple Pay compatible. Apple Pay doesn't demand Apple-issued equipment from participating restaurants. The ease with which restaurant chains can use existing technology to accept Apple Pay transactions speaks volumes as to why some of the biggest names in quick service have signed on.

In the case of McDonald's, for example, a McDonald's spokesperson confirms that NFC (near field communication) technology has been in place for years. "We have been accepting mobile payments in-store and at the drive-thru since 2011, so our 14,000+ U.S. restaurants and drive-thrus are ready for Apple Pay," says the rep. While sending a phone back-and-forth between customer and restaurant staff during drive-thru mobile payment may sound clumsy, McDonald's has been readying itself. According to the rep, customers will be presented with an NFC card reader. Then, as per usual, the customer will hold the phone's Touch ID. The phone will not be handed off to a McDonald's employee.

Subway is in a similar position. A spokesperson from Subway confirmed to Eater that as of Friday, "approximately 95 percent of the restaurants have the contactless payment technology and the rest will follow soon - so they will be ready for Monday's ApplePay rollout." A statement from Subway CIO Carman Wenkoff suggests that Subway sees the move to Apple Pay as part of a larger decision to embrace mobile payment technologies. "We are planning to accept all forms of contactless transactions with our terminals. We see this as a great way to adapt to new technologies and new requirements which are coming in 2015, like EMV [smart chip credit cards]."

Obviously it will take some time before the pluses and minuses of using Apple Pay in restaurants becomes clear. For large chains that already have the infrastructure in place, it seems like an easy decision. What remains to be seen is whether smaller restaurants will embrace the mobile payment technology too.