Product Design & Prototyping

Split The Tab

  • Timeframe: 3 weeks (July 2013)
  • Personal role: All work
Split The Tab

Splitting a receipt at a restaurant is a poor way to end a restaurant experience. It ends a customer's meal with a socially uncomfortable and tedious task that often requires reading glasses and arithmetic. Splitting a tab wastes a server's time as they decipher the customer's notes - not always accurately.

This receipt is designed to solve the problems of both diner and server.

A Modular Receipt

Simple and Familiar

A receipt is printed with each item appearing on its own line. The receipt paper is pre-cut and has an adhesive backing like a sticky note.

The receipt arrives with each item as a pre-cut sticker.
A Modular Receipt

Items are peeled off and attached to a card or cash. With each item attached to a party's payment method, split tabs are clearly communicated to the server. This increases accuracy and saves time for both parties.

Individual items can be peeled off form the receipt's backing.
Simplicity for Servers

Using the letter code to the right of each item, servers quickly match items and their payment methods at the register.

At restaurants with a point of sale system, the total is automatically verified to make sure no items have gone unpaid. For small restaurants without a digital POS, the letter codes remain easy for servers to reconcile manually.

The original receipt is split and traditional style receipts are printed for customers to verify and sign.

Items are attached to each person's payment method, communicating payment intent to the server.

The Bigger Problem: Poor Experience

Receipts are ubiquitous. They exist everywhere yet go unnoticed. These unconsidered, unbranded, and complicated receipts are not designed with a customer's experience in mind.

Paper receipts are made to be cheap and efficient, and it shows in the experience. In addition to difficulties with common problems like splitting a tab, they miss opportunities to work better. For example:

  • Typical 3" receipts are taller than a bill, so they stick out of wallets and get a crumpled edge.
  • They contain needless information like table numbers, servers, transaction numbers, etc. A single reference number should be all that a customer sees.
  • Math is required. This isn't hard, but the problem doesn't need to exist. It certainly doesn't improve the experience.
  • Visually unconsidered, ugly, and made of cheap materials.

The receipt should be a final opportunity to delight customers and create a feeling of luxury, attention to detail, and lasting satisfaction. Good restaurants are obsessive about quality. That experience shouldn't end with an unconsidered, brandless receipt on cheap paper.

Paper Receipts: an everyday object with poor experience design

Optional Learning

There is always a risk in changing a ubiquitous convention.

Electronic payment options exist, but require learning. This is acceptable for most people, but some will be unwilling or unable to change. In their interest, an enhanced paper receipt solves the payment problem in a way that creates less friction than a novel approach.

The peel-off paper receipt is simple and familiar. If a customer doesn't want to use this new method, the enhancements can be ignored and the receipt can be used as normal. A diagram at the bottom shows what can be done, yet nothing needs to be done differently.

To remain as simple and familiar as possible, visual design complications have been kept to a minimum. Type hierarchy adds emphasis to important information and unnecessary information has been removed. The restaurant is given visual branding with a logo, yet the overall feel falls in line with traditional receipts.

While more extensive improvements to the receipt like full color and thicker paper are an option, they come at the cost of both money and usability. My solution strikes a compromise between luxury and economy.

Thai seal used with attribution: Garuda Seal

Optional Learning: If there's no need to split the bill, it's as simple as a traditional receipt.