Title:
RESERVATION-BASED PREAUTHORIZATION PAYMENT SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A method and system for allowing the setting of reservations and the pre-authorization of credit to purchase a desired service for which a reservation is made. A customer accesses a reservation system that is integrated with a credit authorization system. The customer may make a reservation and substantially simultaneously become pre-authorized to pay for services to be provided at the reservation by one of any number of credit providers. Pre-authorized credit and reservation information is then supplied to the service provider in advance of services being provided, expediting the overall transaction time and allowing for a secure and cardless transaction procedure. The reservation and preauthorization information are typically stored upon the reservation system and then passed to the point-of-sale systems, but other types of input/output storage devices could be used to perform this function.


Inventors:
Katz, Jeffrey Bart (Durango, CO, US)
Application Number:
14/147969
Publication Date:
05/29/2014
Filing Date:
01/06/2014
Assignee:
KATZ JEFFREY BART
Primary Class:
International Classes:
G06Q20/40
View Patent Images:
Claims:
1. 1-22. (canceled)

23. A method for securely completing a service transaction, comprising: receiving a request for a reservation for a reserved service to be provided by a specific service provider; receiving a request for registering a form of payment for the reserved service to be provided by the specific service provider at the reservation using an account of the customer; generating unique transaction identification information; generating reservation information including: a date and time the reserved service is to be provided by the specific service provider to the customer at a specific service provider location to satisfy the reservation and the registered form of payment; storing the reservation information and the registered form of payment on a database remote from the specific service provider; transmitting the reservation and registered form of payment to the specific service provider; using, after the reserved service is provided to the customer by the specific service provider, at least the registered form of payment at a point-of-sale associated with the specific service provider to generate payment information, which information includes at least the unique transaction identification information; and transmitting the payment information to the database, the database completing payment to the specific service provider for provided services without the service provider being provided access to the customer's credit account.

24. The method of claim 23, wherein unique transaction identification information is one of a code, a callback number and a biometric parameter.

25. The method of claim 23, further including a system for issuing new credit.

26. The method of claim 23, wherein the reservation information includes unique identification information.

27. The method of claim 23, wherein the reservation request is transmitted over a computer network to the point-of-sale device.

28. The method of claim 23, wherein the reservation request is transmitted over a phone-based network.

29. The method of claim 23, wherein the preauthorization information is transmitted over one of a computer network and a phone-based network to the point-of-sale device.

30. A reservation and secure payment method, the steps comprising: receiving a request for provision of a service from a customer; verifying availability of a requested reservation for the service to be provided by a specific service provider at a service provider location, reserving the service with the specific service provider and generating reservation information, the information including a date and time the reserved service is to be provided by the specific service provider to the customer and a registered form of payment; generating unique transaction identification information; storing the reservation information and the registered form of payment on a database remote from the specific service provider; transmitting at least some of the reservation and the registered form of payment to the specific service provider through use of a network; using, after the service is provided to the customer by the specific service provider to satisfy the reservation, at least the registered form of payment at a point-of-sale associated with the specific service provider to generate at least some payment information, which information includes at least the unique transaction identification information; and transmitting the payment information to the database to complete payment of charges associated with service provided at the reservation by the specific service provider without the service provider being provided with access to the customer's credit account information.

31. The method of claim 30, wherein unique transaction identification information is one of a code, a callback number and a biometric parameter.

32. The method of claim 30, further including the step of issuing new credit to a customer.

33. The method of claim 30, wherein at least one of the reservation information and preauthorization information is received by the point-of-sale system.

34. The method of claim 30, wherein the reservation request is transmitted over a computer network.

35. The method of claim 30, wherein the reservation request is transmitted over a phone network.

36. The method of claim 30, further including the step of storing reservation information and preauthorization information as a functional unit.

37. The method of claim 30, wherein the reservation information includes unique identification information.

38. The method of claim 30, wherein an amount of credit to be preauthorized is determined based at least partially upon reservation information.

39. A device for receiving reservation information and securely transmitting payment information to a service provider, comprising: a memory; a display; a mechanism to receive a previously generated reservation with a specific service provider and a registered form of payment from a remote database, the reservation information including a date the reserved service is to be provided by the specific service provider, unique transaction identification information, and the registered form of payment; a mechanism to generate at least some payment information after the reserved services are provided by the specific service provider at a point-of-sale associated with a specific service provider location to the customer pursuant to the reservation using received registered form of payment, the payment information including at least the unique transaction identification information and the cost of services rendered; and a mechanism to transmit the payment information to the point-of-sale; wherein the service provider is not provided access to the customer's credit account information.

40. The device of claim 39, wherein unique transaction identification information is one of a code, a callback number and a biometric parameter.

41. The device of claim 39, further including a printing mechanism.

42. The device of claim 39, wherein the reservation and registered form of payment is received from a computer network-based reservation system.

43. The device of claim 39, wherein the memory is of a random access type.

44. The device of claim 39, wherein at least some of both the reservation and registered form of payment may be shown upon the display.

45. The method of claim 23, further including storing coupon information on the remote database and using at least some of that information in the generation of payment information.

46. The method of claim 23, further including storing gift card information on the remote database and using at least some of that information in the generation of payment information.

47. The method of claim 23, further including assigning loyalty program points to a loyalty account based upon at least some generated payment information.

48. The method of claim 30, further including storing coupon information on the remote database and using at least some of that information in the generation of payment information.

49. The method of claim 30, further including storing gift card information on the remote database and using at least some of that information in the generation of payment information.

50. The method of claim 30, further including assigning loyalty program points to a loyalty account based upon at least some generated payment information.

51. The device of claim 39, further including a mechanism to input coupon information or gift card information into the remote database.

52. The device of claim 39, wherein at least some coupon or gift card information is used in the generation of payment information.

53. The device of claim 39, further including a mechanism to cause loyalty program points to be assigned to a loyalty account based upon at least some generated payment information.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention generally relates to an integrated reservation, credit preauthorization and management system. The overall system allows a customer to make a reservation and be preapproved to incur a predesignated dollar amount of credit from a known credit account. The management component of the system generally allows a vendor, through the reservation system, to manage reservations and preauthorizations. The reservation and preauthorization information are preferably stored upon the reservation system and provided to the management system, such as a vendor's point-of-sale (“POS”) systems, upon direction or as otherwise automatically programmed into the overall system. The overall system is designed to provide a richer experience to both the customer and to the service provider.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Reservations to purchase services or products are customarily either made in person, by phone or through use of an on-line reservation system. It is to be understood that “service” is used throughout this specification as including both services and products, and should be so understood by a person of skill in the art.

FIG. 1 is a block diagram showing the basic principles of prior art reservation systems. The figure generally describes a customer 20 contacting a network, such as a phone or computer network 22, to make a reservation with a particular service provider 24. Using the system, the customer 20 selects a date and time for her reservation, submitting her request to the reservation system 22. Once the information is received by the reservation system 22, the reservation is verified, often against the reservation system's electronic database of available times and days for particular services. If the date or time is not available, the customer 20 is prompted by the reservation system 22 to select another date or time. If the date and time are available, the reservation system 22 reserves the reservation in known fashion.

On the day and time of the reservation, the customer will often travel to the service provider 24, requesting and then receiving reserved and/or other services. The customer next often receives a bill for services provided, paying the bill by the tender of cash, check or credit card. Often, the customer then waits for the transaction to be completed by the receipt of change or authorization/verification of the check or that the credit account has sufficient credit to cover incurred charges.

When credit is used as a payment method, the typical credit authorization process limits the speed at which the transaction can take place. For instance, typically a customer receives a bill for services rendered. The customer, after reviewing the bill, must then often attract the attention of the service provider to hand a credit device, such as a card, to the service provider, who then must obtain an authorization from any one of several known credit authorizing systems. It is not uncommon for this total process to take in excess of several minutes. To obtain that authorization, a vendor normally runs the credit device and/or other account information through its POS or other type of known verifying system. Some examples of known POS systems are Micros, Aloha and Maitre'd. The process, while sometimes only taking seconds, can take much more time.

Once authorization has been achieved, a bill is provided to the customer, who then may add a gratuity and/or sign the receipt. Once that has occurred, the customer is generally free to leave. Once the customer has left, however, the vendor still often must enter an included gratuity, utilizing more of both the vendor's and the credit card authorization system's time and assets. Obviously, the prior art process is cumbersome to both the customer and provider.

The security of credit account information, identification information and perhaps other information is also always at issue in the traditional service provider-customer credit payment transaction process. The traditional transaction model usually requires payment by the use of an actual card or other instrument. Under this transaction model, the customer's credit card and, often times, some form of personal identification (such as a driver's license) leaves the possession of the customer at the time authorization is performed. Unscrupulous third-parties (including service provider staff, other customers, etc.) may then have access to the customer's credit account and personal identification information. With that access, it is possible for the third party to perpetrate any number of forms of identity theft and/or other fraud upon the customer.

Also, under the traditional service provider-customer credit account transaction model, customers typically only become aware that their credit line has been or is about to be exceeded after a failed attempt for authorization occurs. For a customer, it may be embarrassing to find out that a proposed credit charge has been denied. A denied credit request also may be frustrating and worrisome to the service provider, who may question whether the customer will be able to ultimately tender payment for services rendered.

The present invention addresses these and other issues raised by known systems. For instance, under a preferred embodiment of the inventive system, a customer will be informed prior to obtaining services from the service provider as to whether or not their chosen credit account has a sufficient credit line for the services to be provided. Also, under the preferred system, the service provider is never provided with the customer's account information. Rather, all the service provider receives is preauthorization information—the account information remains securely stored within the reservation system. Also, by preauthorizing payment for services to be provided, the overall payment process will be streamlined, potentially eliminating the entire at-the-provider authorization step, saving both the vendor and customer time and effort.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention has several aspects and includes an integrated reservation, credit preauthorization and vendor information management system. The system allows a customer to make reservations with a service provider and to provide that service provider with information concerning preauthorized credit to pay for services to be purchased, with that information preferably being stored in the reservation system and provided to the service provider's management device, such as a POS, only as designed or needed. Preauthorization could concern credit issued on any account known to the system and for a dollar amount which could be ascertained in any number of fashions. When a customer arrives at a service provider, the system, typically through a POS or similar device, will alert the service provider that the customer has been granted preapproved credit. With that information, payment of the final bill should be facilitated. Facilitation could include the automatic printing of a final bill with the preauthorization information, tip line, comment line, etc., and signature line already included thereon.

Typically, a customer may access a reservation system in a number of fashions. A customer may call a service provider directly; a customer may place a telephone call to a reservation clearing house; a customer may access an internet/www based reservation system; etc. The concepts of the present system will work with any of these and other types of reservation systems. Nevertheless, the system will be described in connection with a customer accessing a computer network-based reservation system.

Upon accessing the reservation system, a customer can register to become an authorized system user. During the registration process, general personal information, such as name and contact information may be gathered. The customer can preferably view a list of subscribing service providers, such as restaurants, automotive repair shops, health clubs, personal hygiene professionals, etc., and the menu of services each provides. If desired and registered, the customer can next attempt to make a reservation to purchase an offered service, requesting a date and time to have that service provided and/or other requests, such as specific seat and table preferences, etc. At the time the reservation is made, the customer may preferably next be prompted to select a credit account payment option. If the customer does not choose that option or if such an option is unavailable from the selected provider or to the customer, the reservation will simply be completed. Should the preauthorized credit account payment option be chosen, however, the customer will be prompted to make additional selections.

At this point, the customer preferably has several options to potentially pursue. If a returning customer, the customer may select from a menu or other similar device a credit account previously registered with the system and which the customer wishes to utilize for the then under-consideration transaction. A second option preferably available to the customer is to supply the system with information concerning a new or different preexisting credit account. If a customer chooses to use a preexisting credit account, the customer is prompted to provide required identification information into the reservation system. The system will then perform appropriate verification of the information.

If there is sufficient credit on a selected account, a preauthorization is awarded, and the reservation information being supplied to and stored as a functional unit usually by the reservation system. The customer and perhaps the service provider may also be provided the preauthorization and reservation information for its records.

A third option available to a customer is to apply for instant or other credit through the system. In this situation, the customer is prompted to complete a credit application. The system then conducts a credit check and/or performs other known operations. The credit issuing system, which may be part of the overall reservation system or a stand-alone system, will approve or deny the customer's request for credit based upon any number of prerequisites and system settings, as are generally known in the industry. If the customer's credit application is denied, the customer is so notified and may still request preauthorization with use of a preexisting credit account or request a non-credit preauthorization reservation. If new credit is approved, the customer is notified of the credit limit for the new account and a credit authorization and other information is sent to the reservation system, as generally described above. The system may also provide the customer with new account information and/or devices, such as an account number or credit card, which could be used to pay for purchases made outside of the overall system. Once issued by the system, a customer is free to make reservations and have credit authorizations issued to selected service providers operating within the system, up to the customer's authorized credit limit on any given account.

The dollar amount of credit that may be preauthorized is dependent upon a number of factors. First, a preauthorized dollar amount could be requested by the customer and/or service provider. Additionally, for customers that have sufficiently high credit ratings, the system could preferably authorize any amount actually charged during the reservation, up to predetermined security ceilings. The system could also calculate a dollar amount to be preauthorized utilizing reservation information and/or perhaps other metrics. For instance, a service provider may track the average cost of services typically rendered. That figure may be stored within the overall system and may be used to calculate the amount of preauthorized credit to be awarded any customer who makes a reservation at that or similar service providers. Other metrics may also be utilized, as will be understood by those skilled in the art. How much credit shall be preauthorized and how that figure is arrived at is a dynamic that will be left to and is well within the skill of those working in this art. Suffice it to say, however, that the amount of credit which will be preauthorized through the system will be dictated by customer preferences, member service provider preferences, reservation information or some combination thereof, in addition to other metrics or input data that may be used to determine the amount of credit to be preauthorized.

With reference now to a customer receiving reserved services, at an appointed time and day, the customer may arrive at the service provider and identify him/herself as the customer having previously made a reservation. Unique customer information (i.e., a code, biometric, call back, etc.) may next be provided to the vendor, perhaps by entering the data into the provider's management system. That system may preferably be programmed to then query the reservation system and/or an associated database to determine if in fact the customer has a reservation and if that customer has received preauthorization to pay for services to be provided with credit. Retrieved information is generally forwarded back to the vendor's management system for use during the then-to-be-concluded transaction.

Next, the customer orders and receives requested services. The customer finally requests a bill for services rendered. The service provider finalizes the service request, usually on its POS system. That system recognizes the customer's transaction as a pre-authorized credit payment and issues a specialized bill for services rendered. The customer signs the special receipt, having the option to leave an additional tip, and leaves the service provider. The service provider completes the transaction by submitting the final customer-authorized total payment and perhaps other desired information to the reservation system. That system will then preferably send required information to an associated credit acquisition or other similar system for payment.

Yet another aspect of the present invention allows for the payment of services by a third-party to the transaction. For example, a party may register on the system, make a reservation, and request credit for services to be provided to another. This aspect of the invention may be most attractive to parents making reservations for and paying for services or products to be consumed by a child.

The present invention can be used in conjunction with all service providers that take reservations. For example, the present invention can be used with restaurant services to provide a system of making reservations and for preauthorization of credit to be used to pay for services reserved. In practice, a customer may access the integrated reservation system to select a participating restaurant and to make a reservation. The customer is then given the same options as described above: continue with just a reservation or make a reservation in conjunction with preauthorizing a credit payment for services reserved and to be purchased. On the date of the reservation, the customer travels to the restaurant and identifies him/herself as having a reservation. Upon verification of that reservation, the customer is seated and orders a meal. After the meal, the customer requests the bill. The restaurant's management or other system recognizes the customer as pre-authorized for credit and generates a unique check for the customer to sign. The customer then receives the check and has the option to add a tip. The customer next signs the bill and then leaves the restaurant. The restaurant enters, either manually or automatically, the final total of the bill and perhaps other information into its management system, which can transmit data to the reservation system, credit acquirer and/or other appropriate systems. The reservation system, credit acquirer or other system transmits payment to the restaurant and bills the customer for that service payment. The entire payment process occurs without the service provider ever being privy to the customer's credit account information and without the need of the customer providing the restaurant with a credit card or similar device.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of prior art reservation systems.

FIG. 2 is a block diagram of a system according to one aspect of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a flowchart illustrating a reservation and credit issuing system according to another aspect of the present invention.

FIG. 4 is a flowchart illustrating payment to a service provider according to another aspect of the present invention.

FIG. 5 is a schematic diagram showing some componentry of the preferred reservation and preauthorization information receipt and storage device of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a schematic diagram of the overall architecture of a preferred embodiment of the present invention.

It should be understood that the drawings are not necessarily to scale. In certain instances, details which are not necessary for an understanding of the invention or which render other details difficult to perceive may have been omitted. It should be understood, of course, that the invention is not necessarily limited to the particular embodiments illustrated in the drawings.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

FIG. 2 is a block diagram showing some of the principles of the preferred integrated reservation and preauthorized credit method and management system. Customer 26 preferably first accesses a reservation system 28. The reservation system 28, whether phone, Internet or other network based system, first prompts an existing system customer 26 to enter identification information or prompts a new customer 26 to register as a new user on the reservation system 28. In the latter scenario, the reservation system 28 will request a series of input from customer 26, which may include personal identification information (e.g., name, address, phone number, e-mail address, etc.), the selection of a unique personal identification code or name (e.g., username), and a password or other personal identification information, such as a call back number, a voice recognition print or other biometric information, caller identification information, etc.

Once registered, the reservation system 28 will usually next prompt the customer 26 to select a desired service provider and enter reservation information (e.g., location, date, time, services desired, etc.). Once a reservation is selected and verified as available, the system usually moves to a credit preauthorization processing step.

The reservation system 28 preferably next prompts the customer to pay for services to be provided at an available reservation through a preauthorized credit option. If the customer selects that option, the customer is asked to either apply for credit through the system (process described above) 31, to select a preexisting credit account already registered with the system or to enter information concerning a preexisting credit account into the system. Once an account is selected, the system checks to determine that account has a sufficient available credit limit. If so, preauthorization of at least some credit is granted. Next, preauthorization information, along with the reservation information, is preferably provided to the reservation system. In another embodiment of the invention, that same information could simultaneously be provided to member service provider 32 and/or customer 26. In yet another embodiment of the invention, the reservation and preauthorization information could be provided first to member service provider 32, and then, perhaps, subsequently to the reservation system 28 and customer 26. If preauthorization is denied, only the customer is notified, who may attempt to receive preauthorization through another credit account or simply have the reservation, without preauthorization of credit, sent to the reservation system 28 and/or member service provider 32.

As explained, the customer 26 can also apply for and receive a new line of credit through the system. If the customer 26 applies for new credit, the credit authorizing system 30 will typically communicate with a credit issuing system 31. In this situation, first a credit application must typically be completed by the customer 26. The credit issuing system 31, using that customer information and other available information, next determines whether to issue new credit, and can communicate approval or rejection of the credit application to customer 26 directly, through the credit authorizing system 30 or through the reservation system 28 or any combination thereof. If the credit application is denied, the reservation system 28 typically shall store only reservation information and shall only supply that information to member service provider 32. The reservation system will provide confirmation of the reservation or a request to select a new reservation, if a conflict exists, to customer 26.

It will be understood by those skilled in the art that the reservation system 28, credit authorizing system 30 and credit issuing system 31 could all be part of a single system, may be separate systems, or may simply be integrated or unintegrated components of much larger overall systems. The actual configurations of systems which perform the disclosed functions do not and should not be considered to limit the scope of the present invention.

If customer 26 selects the pre-authorized credit option and credit is approved, credit information, such as an authorization for a pre-selected amount, is sent from the credit authorizing system 30 to the reservation system 28 and/or member service provider 32. The reservation system 28 and/or member service provider 32 may receive the preauthorization and other information in any number of ways. Typically, such information will be received with the reservation information. Those pieces of information then can be stored for later retrieval and use. The preauthorization and reservation information may be received as a functional unit and may be stored as a functional unit, but that need not be the case. Most preferably, the information is received by and stored upon a management device, such as a service provider's POS system.

As will be understood by those skilled in the art and with reference to FIG. 5, the management device 74 includes a memory 76, preferably having random access capabilities, and a display 78, preferably a viewing screen of known configuration. The management device 74 also may have a printing device 80 of known configuration and functionality. Management device 74 also preferably includes a device which allows the service provider to input information into the device, such as a keyboard 82 or other known device. The management device 74 is in communication, via a network connection 82, with reservation system 28 and/or credit authorizing system 30 and/or credit issuing system 31 and/or credit acquisition system (not shown). Information received through network connection 82 can be stored upon memory 76, displayed upon display 78 and printed upon medium provided as part of printer 80. Preferably, device 74 stores received preauthorization, reservation and other desired information in memory 76 as a functional unit, i.e., logically related. It will be understood by those skilled in the art that, though shown as a single unit, management device 74 may, instead, be comprised of many separate functional components, all of which taken together are configured to create the management device 74. Further, combinations of several but not all devices into a single package very well could occur and is to be understood as being within the scope of the present invention.

With specific reference to FIG. 6, a preferred embodiment of the overall architecture of a preferred system, at least parts of which have already been described, will now be discussed. As will be understood by those skilled in the art, a basic component of the overall system is the reservation system 100. That system can either include or can otherwise seamlessly communicate with a database 102, preauthorization system 104, vendors 106, 107, 108, customers 110, 112, 114, and either directly (not shown) or indirectly, credit acquisition 116 and credit issuing system 118.

As has been explained and as will be understood by those skilled in the art, any number of customers 110, 112, 114 can simultaneously communicate with the reservation system 100 through any number of communication protocols. The reservation system 100 can likewise communicate with the database 102 and, either through the database or directly, the preauthorization system 104 and the credit issuing system 118. Preauthorization system 104 and credit issuing system 118 can also communicate directly, in another of the preferred embodiments, with customers 110, 112 and 114. Such communication may or may not be necessary, depending upon specific implementation of the system. As will be understood by those skilled in the art, customers 110, 112, 114 can communicate with the reservation system 100 as needed to make, review, update, modify, cancel or otherwise change reservations. The reservation system 100 can also communicate on an as-needed basis with customer 110, 112, 114, individually, as a group comprised of less than all customers, or a group comprised of all customers and/or others, depending upon any particular application or communication need.

The reservation system 100 also may communicate with credit acquisition system 116, either directly (not shown) or indirectly through the database 102. Credit acquisition system 116 may also communicate directly or indirectly with customers 110, 112 and 114, on an as-needed basis.

Reservation system 100 also preferably may have a constant line of communication with all vendors 106, 107 and 108 participating in the system. Vendors, 106, 107 and 108 may also bypass certain portions of the reservation system 100 and communicate directly with database 102 (not shown), preauthorization system 104 (not shown) and credit issuing system 118 (not shown). Vendors 106, 107 and 108 may also, as necessary, communicate with credit acquisition system 116 directly or indirectly through the reservation system 100.

As will be understood by those skilled in the art, the overall preferred architecture set forth in FIG. 6 is provided simply for illustrative purposes and could have any number of communication scenarios. Further, it is to be understood that the system can accommodate virtually any number of customers and any number of vendors. Further, one of skill in the art would understand that, within the reservation system and/or within an associated database, information would be stored in a logical manner which would facilitate retrieval by an individual, customer, vendor or others. Such could be accomplished through any number of known data structures, memory partitioning systems or in other ways known in the field.

FIG. 3 is a flowchart illustrating the function of a preferred integrated reservation and credit authorizing system. Customer accesses the system in one of several typical and known ways in the art 35. The system requests input 36 from the customer. If the customer is a new user, the system will prompt the customer to register on the system, requiring the customer to input contact information. Once recognized, the system will prompt the customer to enter reservation information. The system 34 will then determine whether the requested service provider is a member of the credit authorizing system 38. If not, the process of making the reservation is completed 40, i.e., the reservation is confirmed and information regarding the reservation is sent to the customer, reservation system and service provider. If the requested service provider is a member of the credit authorizing system, the customer is prompted to use preauthorized credit to pay for service(s) to be received at the reservation. If the customer does not select the preauthorized credit option, the customer may opt-out and complete the reservation 44. If the customer chooses the preauthorized credit option, the customer will be prompted to provide credit account information 42. Next, the system must determine the amount of credit to be approved 45. The system can determine this amount based upon any number of metrics, as discussed above.

If preauthorization is denied, the customer is notified and is prompted to either supply different credit account information to attempt to achieve preauthorization or more simply complete her reservation 48. If credit is approved, the preapproval and reservation information will typically be sent to the customer, the reservation system and, perhaps, the member service provider 52.

In another preferred embodiment of the reservation system (not shown), the ability to store meal logs for taxation or other archival purposes may be provided. In this embodiment, customers will be prompted by the reservation system, usually while making a reservation, but perhaps thereafter as well, to state whether the reservation will be for tax-deductible or other purposes. Other descriptive information could also be added to the reservation record. If information is to be added, the customer will be prompted to provide such information. The overall system will maintain a log and provide reporting as to completed reservations, providing inputted and desired information to customers, companies and/or selected other entities. The described functionality will eliminate the need for customer, company or other tracking entity to keep a separate log of fees expended on events purchased through the reservation system, e.g., tax-deductible services, etc. Once again, this functionality will lead to a richer value-added customer experience.

While the system has been described as having a reservation made first and a request for credit and/or preauthorization occurring second, one working in the art will realize that many of the above described steps can and often will be performed in different and varied orders, with no impact upon overall feasibility of the preferred process.

FIG. 4 illustrates a preferred flow process of the preferred invention once the customer has arrived at a member service provider. Once at a service provider location 54, the customer identifies herself (using traditional or non-traditional forms of identification) as a customer with a reservation 56, requesting provision of reserved and/or additional services 58. The service provider enters a customer's service request into its management system, such as a POS system 60, which will preferably query the integrated reservation system for necessary information and verification. In this example, the customer has chosen to use preauthorized credit and the overall system alerts the provider to this fact so that payment for services to be rendered will occur as anticipated by the customer. The customer next receives requested and perhaps additional services 62. The customer then requests a bill for services provided 64. The provider's system generates a special bill that indicates payment has been preauthorized with a designated credit account 66. The special bill may provide for signature of the customer, the addition of a gratuity, etc. The customer usually will sign the special bill, perhaps leaves a gratuity, and exits the service provider 68. The final bill total and other desired information is entered by the service provider onto its system 70. Payment is issued to service provider 72 in a traditional manner and as is well known in the trade 72.

The invention may also be used as a marketing tool for services providers or others. Marketing programs could include e-mail marketing, customer profiling, referral marketing, multi-channel marketing and gift and loyalty programs. Through the described system, an efficient method of identifying, tracking customer recentness, frequency and amount of money spent, as well as categorizing customers and their preferences, can be provided, as will be understood by one of skill in the art. Through the described system, one could also market differently to each category of customers and reward customers for their desired behaviors, as will be understood by those skilled in the art.

For instance, member service providers may provide advertising or incentive programs to be used in conjunction with the overall system. Advertising by an interested service provider may be placed as in-line text, banner, pop-up window advertising and/or other electronic means onto a graphical user interface connecting to the system. As will be understood by those skilled in the art, the system could also be designed to create and send marketing campaigns on behalf of participating service providers or others.

Another such campaign could be the marketing of special events for a service provider. The recipient of e-mail concerning such an event could simply respond to the marketing material, automatically creating a reservation for that event. Events that might be the subject of such marketing campaigns could be e-birthday cards, e-holiday cards, discount coupon advertisements, etc.

Preferably, the reservation system will also enable customers to easily invite others, such as friends or co-workers to planned events which have been reserved through the system. For instance, customers could be able to select a service provider from the system's on-line database and make a reservation. The customer then could create a list of invitees with corresponding e-mail addresses, each of which would be saved by the system. The system would then generate invitations to the reserved event, sending those invitations to each of the invitees set forth on the customer's list. Invitees could then simply respond to their invitation to RSVP for the event. Preferably, once the customer's deadline for the RSVP has passed, the overall reservation will be set in the system, with the service provider's management system being able to obtain necessary information as desired. Thereafter, confirmations could preferably be sent to invitees and the customer, with automatic updates, reminders and other similar electronic notifications being sent as desired, either by the service provider, reservation system, customer or all three. Obviously, once the invitees' contact information is added to the overall system, they too could be marketed to through the system as outlined above.

As should be understood, an interested service provider may also provide promotions, such as incentive/reward point systems and/or other service discounts through the reservation system. The reservation system could transmit such promotional information (e.g., discounts) to the member service provider to be applied to a bill for services to be rendered a given customer or in other ways customary in the trade. Preferably, such a system would be directly integrated with a dedicated management device.

The inventive system may also be used by the member service providers and/or other third parties to track customer purchasing trends, payment trends, etc. Such information can later be used for purposes of direct marketing, through electronic mail or otherwise and/or through sponsored advertising with related Internet links of related and/or competing service providers.

In another embodiment of the present invention, customers could receive frequent dining points to be tracked by the system by either registering an existing credit card with the reservation system and using it as a form of payment, or by making a reservation through the system. Either way, customers can receive points automatically and transparently when they purchase services from a participating service provider. A customer could obtain points by simply walking into a service provider and paying for services purchased with a registered credit card or other registered device. Upon joining a service provider's loyalty program, each time the customer frequents an establishment operating under the loyalty program, they could preferably receive an e-mail confirming the number of loyalty program points added to their account.

In another embodiment, a marketing campaign could be established to allow the purchase of gift cards or certificates. Optionally, this purchase could be charged on one of the accounts on file with the reservation system or with a newly established credit account. Through integration of the reservation system with service provider management systems, these gift values could be passed from the reservation system to the management system, similar to the preauthorization of credit, as a form of payment. The redemption of loyalty rewards can also be converted into a gift card or e-gift certificate and be used as a form of payment on-line or in-store.

The present invention, in various embodiments, includes components, methods, processes, systems and/or apparatus substantially as depicted and described herein, including various embodiments, subcombinations, and subsets thereof. Those of skill in the art will understand how to make and use the present invention after understanding the present disclosure. The present invention, in various embodiments, includes providing devices and processes in the absence of items not depicted and/or described herein or in various embodiments hereof, including in the absence of such items as may have been used in previous devices or processes, e.g., for improving performance, achieving ease and\or reducing cost of implementation.

The foregoing discussion of the invention has been presented for purposes of illustration and description. The foregoing is not intended to limit the invention to the form or forms disclosed herein. In the foregoing Detailed Description for example, various features of the invention are grouped together in one or more embodiments for the purpose of streamlining the disclosure. This method of disclosure is not to be interpreted as reflecting an intention that the claimed invention requires more features than are expressly recited in each claim. Rather, as the following claims reflect, inventive aspects lie in less than all features of a single foregoing disclosed embodiment. Thus, the following claims are hereby incorporated into this Detailed Description, with each claim standing on its own as a separate preferred embodiment of the invention.

Moreover, though the description of the invention has included description of one or more embodiments and certain variations and modifications, other variations and modifications are within the scope of the invention, e.g., as may be within the skill and knowledge of those in the art, after understanding the present disclosure. It is intended to obtain rights which include alternative embodiments to the extent permitted, including alternate, interchangeable and/or equivalent structures, functions, ranges or steps to those claimed, whether or not such alternate, interchangeable and/or equivalent structures, functions, ranges or steps are disclosed herein, and without intending to publicly dedicate any patentable subject matter.