Kiosks are a common form of self-service technologies (SSTs), and they are often found in airports, grocery stores, and movie theaters. They’re designed to be affordable, relatively easy to implement, and an excellent option for decreasing wait times. That’s why many restaurants, especially in the fast casual and quick service industries, have begun implementing them, too. While kiosks can be the perfect solution for some restaurants, there are many factors to consider. Before we can look at these considerations, we need to clarify what a kiosk is.
A kiosk is a self-service machine that allows guests to order food, customize orders, and pay for everything without interacting with an employee. There are different versions of kiosks, but for our purposes we are focusing on stand-alone kiosks inside fast casual and quick service restaurants. These kiosks might be mounted on the wall, resting on counters, or in custom built floor-standing enclosures, but their overall purpose is the same: to allow guests to bypass the traditional method of ordering (placing an order with an employee who uses a POS system to complete the transaction).
Now let’s look at what you need to consider before incorporating kiosks into your restaurant.
Ensuring an excellent guest experience is, of course, one of a restaurant’s ultimate goals. With competition heating up in the fast casual and quick service restaurant industries, restaurants struggle to differentiate themselves from each other. Guests demand a superior guest experience or they will just go next door. A well-designed kiosk system enables that experience in several ways, including:
Shorter Wait Times
Nobody likes waiting in line, but guests at fast casual and quick service restaurants can be especially sensitive to wait times. By offering kiosks in addition to traditional order stations, some restaurants like Panera Bread have been able to dramatically reduce wait times for guests. Kiosks allow guests to skip the lines and place orders themselves. In Panera’s case, wait times decreased while order accuracy increased after the introduction of kiosks. Employees didn’t have to fix problems with orders as often, so they were able to focus on taking orders, thus increasing speed of service.
More Accurate Orders
Speaking of order accuracy, kiosks make placing custom orders easier than ever. Guests can order at their own pace and customize their order, choosing exactly what they do and don’t want, without taking the time of an employee. Kiosks also offer the ability to show pictures of every item and modifier on your menu, so guests can see exactly what they’re getting, making it easier to be sure they’re getting what they want. The result is a happy guest who gets what they ordered, how they ordered it, and an employee otherwise free to help others.
Loyalty Program Perks
Another benefit of a kiosk is being able to identify your loyal guests and better serve them. When you have guests who come in regularly, offering a loyalty program can make sense. Kiosks typically have the option for guests to input their email address, phone number, or other identifiers like scanning a loyalty app. This allows the guest to easily sign in or up to your loyalty program, manage their points, and redeem rewards. In addition, kiosks enable loyal guests to quickly reorder their favorite items, decreasing order times and freeing the kiosk up for other waiting guests. This is particularly useful for restaurants that have a robust lunch crowd full of repeat guests.
Easy Access to Nutrition Information
Many customers have unique dietary restrictions, preferences, or dangerous allergies and need to know exactly what is in every item on the menu. Without a kiosk, these guests may need an employee to walk them through the menu. However, if the employee isn’t able to accurately remember what comes on every menu item, the guest may end up with something they can’t eat, or worse, something hazardous to them. Kiosks can provide guests with all the information they need to make an informed decision.
More Communication Options
A language barrier can be an issue between employees and guests, but kiosks remove that barrier. Kiosks can be programmed to offer multiple language options, and in areas where multiple languages are spoken, this can help drive traffic and improve the guest experience. If a guest doesn’t understand any of the languages available, they still may be able to place an order with minimum help thanks to the visual components of the kiosk.
While guest experience is likely your primary consideration, you should also evaluate how kiosks affect restaurant operations. Your entire restaurant, from employees to floorplan, will be affected by kiosk implementation. Let’s look at how each area will be impacted:
As wonderful as kiosks are, it’s important to understand that they won’t totally replace cashiers – especially in the near future. Guests using a kiosk tend to take longer to place their order compared to orders taken by a cashier simply because they want to look through the menu, customize their order, and add any extras to their order.
There are many benefits to kiosks that make that slower transaction time worth it, including higher average tickets, smaller wait times, and increased order accuracy, but it does mean that you can’t assume that the number of orders coming through a kiosk will be the same as the number from a cashier. Typically, you’d want to consider a 2:1 ratio – two kiosks to one cashier. That will give you multiple kiosks for guests, provide an option for guests that aren’t comfortable ordering from a kiosk, and allow for the faster transactions of a cashier, which is especially important during those lunch and dinner rushes.
As you cut down on the number of employees needed to take orders, you can reallocate these employees to help process orders and improve the guest experience. Instead of standing in front of a POS system, these employees will have the chance to walk around and help customers with the kiosks, check in to see how their food is, deliver orders, or any number of other tasks needed. This can be especially true for a manager; enabling her to be on the floor better engaging guests instead of in the office or behind the line. In addition, with many restaurants seeing increases in online and delivery orders, the number of orders being processed per hour is increasing so other employees may need to assist back of house from time to time.
Fast casual and quick service restaurants need to consider how a kiosk system will integrate with their current POS system – if it will at all. There are three kinds of kiosk systems available: stand alone, integrated, and seamless.
Standalone systems operate independently of your existing POS system without any sharing of data. While this makes it easy to implement, it means double the work when it comes to updating menu items, adjusting prices, or any other system updates. Separate systems might cost less, but you could end up paying much more when you factor in the costs of managing two separate systems, the possibility of losing money if the prices on the kiosk don’t update with the POS, and unhappy customers potentially overpaying or who aren’t able to order something because the kiosk system didn’t have the correct menu items available. Additionally, another vendor must be managed.
An integrated system allows for the kiosk and POS to communicate with each other to some degree; however, the key data management still occurs separately. This makes it easier to keep menus and prices in sync, but they are controlled from two separate places. These kinds of systems make it possible to keep your current POS system, but there can still be communication errors, the additional headache of controlling multiple systems, running upgrades for both, and dealing with separate companies for each system.
A seamless system, like Qu, offers a natural connection between the kiosk and POS system, ensuring a consistent guest experience and allowing centralized management of pricing, menus, promotions, and other configurations. This can further extend to other channels like online & mobile ordering, and catering.
There are many options of where to place the kiosks within the restaurant. You must decide if they will be hung on the wall, have their own stand, or have a standalone enclosure. Keep in mind that there’s more to a kiosk than a screen; each kiosk must also have the capability to accept payment and likely print a receipt, too. One must also consider where customers will gather to wait for their meal. In some operational styles the cashier may give the food to the guest immediately following their order, in that model, guests ordering through a kiosk must instead wait somewhere for their food to be prepped. This may have an impact on the restaurant’s floorplan and require a store remodel like Starbucks recently underwent. While they have seen a surge in mobile orders, rather than from kiosks, the result is the same: fewer people waiting in line to order, and more people waiting to pick up.
These two factors, kiosk placement and guest waiting zones, often result in restaurants needing some sort of floor plan adjustment to successfully implement kiosks. These adjustments could be a small, tactical project or it could require an entire remodel; and could impact whether or not kiosk implementation is cost effective for your restaurant.
Increased Average Check Value
Guests who place their own orders tend to have higher check values than those who place an order with a cashier.
Whether it’s because kiosks enable consistent and personalized upselling, or because guests feel free to add that extra bacon or a scoop of ice cream to their order without the real (or imagined) judgement of an employee, restaurants that have implemented kiosks report a 15% to 30% increase in average check value.
As technology continues to improve, the costs of kiosk implementation decrease, making them more affordable than ever. But more affordable is still an investment, so here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin to price kiosk system options.
It is possible to keep initial costs down by choosing to use simple, smaller tablets like iPads or Android tablets, but most restaurants that do so find these devices must be replaced more often. They weren’t designed for the wear and tear of kiosk use, so sections of the screen frequently fail after tens of thousands of touches. This may sound like a lot but if the “payment” button is on the same place on the screen and is tapped for each and every transaction, that can be thousands a month. Some systems try to get around this problem by moving buttons and items around the screen periodically. However, even if that is possible in your system, you run the risk of confusing your customers by constantly changing the look of the menu and ordering system.
Choosing a kiosk system designed specifically for restaurants may cost more upfront but tend to result in a higher return on investment. These types of kiosks were created to be turned on for years, viewable in direct sunlight, generally durable, and to stand up to constant use, which is why they last longer and perform better. The cost saved isn’t just in less need for early replacement but is more so saved in minimizing downtime, technician deployment, and general maintenance.
More Accurate Orders
Because the user experience will be a driver of guest sentiment for a brand, selecting the right software is critical. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the kiosk is if it isn’t intuitive enough for guests to use. A custom kiosk system designed for your restaurant can deliver the ultimate ROI for your restaurant because it will be designed with your guest in mind.
Ease of use is job #1; customers need to be able to understand and use the kiosk easily. No one wants to be the person who can’t figure out how to use it and holds up the line. Intuitive doesn’t just mean an animated picture of a hamburger to represent the hamburger category, it really means the workflows are purposeful and custom designed to guide a first-time user or maximize speed for a frequent user. A template or standard kiosk model might work but is unlikely to deliver a superior experience. Think about it like a cell phone. Yes, a flip phone will allow you to place calls and send text messages. But there’s a reason people prefer a smartphones to a flip phones. Both are functional, but the experience on a smartphone is far superior.
The investment in a kiosk system varies widely, but it’s important to look at how the numbers break down. Investing in a custom system can have a seemingly large upfront cost, but when you own multiple stores and amortize that initial cost across the brand, it breaks down to much more manageable amounts. Also, comparing the overall investment in an employee is also important in assessing the overall value of adding kiosks to your restaurant. A kiosk system requires a high one-time investment with relatively small recurring fees. They function 24/7, are always on time, and always do their job. Employees require wages, benefits, and training. Employees only work so many hours a week, they can decide to not show up, and they can be unreliable. Of course, you’ll still have employees – you’ll simply need fewer employees as your revenues continue to increase.
Use Qu’s Kiosk ROI Calculator to help you determine the cost benefits of adding kiosks to your restaurant.
While some restaurants have chosen to go all in on kiosks, this won’t be the standard next week or next year. For most fast casual and quick service restaurants, implementing a kiosk system may be a great option but it will depend on factors such as size, the number of locations, operational details, and customer base. Implementing a kiosk system is an investment. For most restaurants, it’s an investment that will pay off with an excellent ROI, assuming they choose a quality kiosk system, determine the right ratio for their locations, and implement them wisely.