Centretown pub first to accept virtual currency

The Standard Tavern on Elgin Street is the first restaurant in the city to accept a virtual currency called bitcoin.

Starting today, patrons can pay for their beers at The Standard Tavern using only a cellphone. Bitcoin is a form of online currency that allows customers to pay for items electronically, deducting currency from their “virtual wallet.”

Customers can use their phone to scan a bar code provided by the restaurant, and bitcoin will automatically be transferred from their account to The Standard Tavern, says general manager Mike Coughlan.

Each time a customer makes a transaction using bitcoin, the customer's virtual wallet releases or accepts currency, and both parties are issued an e-receipt. Since the currency is virtual, bitcoins can be divided into miniscule fractions. For instance, a $30 meal might only charge your account 0.0002 bitcoin.

The value of bitcoin hinges on market demand since there is no central body controlling the currency the way there is for traditional currencies like the Canadian dollar. This decentralization makes bitcoin easy to use around the world.

Currently, one bitcoin is worth about $925 CAD.

Using a virtual currency like bitcoin eliminates credit and debit card charges and the risk of fraud both for consumers and retailers, Coughlan says. This is part of the reason The Standard Tavern decided to implement the new system.

“If we can save transaction fees with more people using bitcoin, we’re able to turn around and give that back to the community that supports us in terms of reducing prices, or better service or just putting out a better product,” Coughlan says.

Managers at The Standard were also attracted to the idea of being the first restaurant in the city to accept bitcoin payments, he says. “If it attracts some customers that are bitcoin-loyal, that’s a client base that isn’t normally coming to us.”

Bitcoin can be converted to a dollar value, but Coughlan hopes as it becomes more popular the virtual currency will be more widely accepted.

“Maybe we will eventually be able to pay suppliers in bitcoin, too,” he says.

The Clocktower Brew Pub in Byward Market recently installed a bitcoin ATM. Coughlan says The Standard Tavern has considered doing the same, and is speaking with suppliers about the possibility.