As quick service food operators look to streamline their businesses and drive efficiencies wherever they can, it was inevitable that self-service kiosks would become a part of the mainstream restaurant experience.
The availability of easy-to-use, often cashless electronic points of sale is providing operators with options they never had before and some are embracing the technology with open arms to enhance productivity.
Look no further than the king of the fast food world, McDonald’s, which has been using these systems in its stores for more than a decade. It is one of the pioneers of the technology and has pledged to install self-order kiosks into every converted UK restaurant within the next two years.
McDonald’s is very much at the forefront of the self-service revolution because, until a few years ago, kiosk technology was often expensive to implement, cumbersome to operate and delivered on hardware that didn’t necessarily suit all business models.
Now, tablets and other handheld technology make systems slicker and more cost-effective to roll out. Furthermore, customers are so used to handheld and touch technology in their everyday lives that kiosks do not frighten the average diner.
Most QSR companies can guarantee that the vast majority of their customers will be tech-savvy enough to operate a kiosk, which can be customised in terms of simplicity and user experience.
Steven Rolfe, managing director at pointOne, a leading provider of EPoS systems, says: “Swiping and browsing data on a customer-facing device, such as a tablet or phone is now ‘normal’, which removes the barriers in getting customers to make use of similar technology in-store. This, coupled with the fact that everyone wants it faster, wants a better experience and everyone embraces technology — it’s the perfect time to be considering a kiosk solution.”
Tossed, the operator of almost 30 quick service salad and healthy eating outlets, is one of the few companies that has gone completely cashless and whose points of sale revolve around self-service technology. It uses a solution from pointOne that is designed to reduce queues during busy periods, remove cash from the business and provide a unique experience for diners. The chain is conscious that queues at peak times can dilute customer experience and, for a fresh food business in particular, efficiency is absolutely paramount to getting queues down.
“QSR is changing and operators must have these concepts at least on their radar for their future strategy to remain competitive in one of the fastest growing food-service sectors”
Vincent McKevitt, founder of Tossed, says: “Most operators face speed and capacity issues at lunchtime, but ours are intensified because we make our food fresh-to-order and most guests like to customise their food to suit their health and taste requirements. Having a unique point-of-sale solution allows our team to focus their energy on our speed of production.” Speaking at a recent industry conference, McKevitt boldly claimed that Tossed has created the “best front-of-house ordering system in the world”.
He claims that guests like the system as it gives them more browse time and takes away the pressure, which is good for drawing in new customers. He insists that very few people miss cash and that the vast majority of customers don’t need guidance on how to operate the kiosks, as they’re so used to using devices like tablets. Furthermore, McKevitt warns that businesses in the foodservice sector that don’t keep up with technology and adopt it will likely suffer and be overtaken.
For McDonald’s, a self-service system is a customer choice to complement the staff-manned tills rather than a completely cashless arrangement. A spokesperson for McDonald’s UK told FEJ: “We are giving customers more freedom of choice in their customer journey — our transformed restaurants are modern, innovative and have digital at their heart so the kiosks complement that well. As part of our modernisation programme, every converted restaurant will have self-order kiosks installed, with restaurant transformations across the entire estate projected to be completed by mid-2018. The kiosks are there to offer a choice for customers so they can decide whether they’d like to order at the kiosk or use the usual route of ordering at the counter.”
Evoke, which supplies the kiosk solution that McDonald’s uses, claims that it helped to set the standard for self-service in the fast food restaurant industry. Dean Ward, owner and technical director of the business, insists that the major appeal of kiosks is that they allow operators to do more for less. “They can enable customers to essentially process transactions themselves rather than having employees do it for them, meaning a lower headcount is required in order to keep a business operational.
“Alternatively, it can enable businesses to operate in a way that can help give them the edge over online competitors, freeing up staff to offer more personalised services that simply can’t be delivered over the internet. For others, it’s simply a way to streamline operations, generate efficiencies and develop better ways of working for both employees and customers,” he adds.
Ward agrees that McDonald’s confidence in the effectiveness of self-service technology is peace of mind for smaller players that would ordinarily be reluctant to adopt it. “Its successful trials and subsequent roll-out has made it very clear that the demand for such technology exists. QSR is changing and operators must have these concepts at least on their radar for their future strategy to remain competitive in one of the fastest growing foodservice sectors,” he says.
One area that some operators might have doubts over is how good self-service systems are at flexing with levels of demand. The prospect of sudden increases in orders leaving the kitchen unable to cope is not one that most operators want to entertain. But pointOne insists that smaller businesses can adapt to cater for more orders and avoid a kiosk-kitchen clash.
Rolfe says: “The kiosk solution should enable you to increase order volumes by taking orders faster, however an operator will accept there is a limit to the orders they can deliver within an hour, whether they have kiosks or not, so they adapt the set-up accordingly. If the scope exists then floor space within the store could be maximised to increase input and output capacity of orders — the kiosk set-up can be delivered in a relatively small footprint in store.”
For McDonald’s, installing kiosks has not influenced the type of catering equipment it uses, but it has allowed it to provide an enhanced product.
“The kiosks themselves have not changed the cooking platform, but as part of our transformations each customer’s order is now freshly prepared,” says the company’s UK spokesperson. “To accommodate this change, our transformed restaurants have split the order and collect process.”
It is clear, then, that self-service kiosks can work for both large and small operators, but installing any system is not a magic ticket to efficiency and profits. In fact, an overly complicated kiosk can have the opposite effect. It is important to work with EPoS providers to maximise the potential of kiosks in any establishment.
“The fact that everyone wants it faster, wants a better experience and everyone embraces technology — it’s the perfect time to be considering a kiosk solution”
Ward, from Evoke, highlights some potential problems if kiosks are not customised to a business. “The first is queuing, especially during peak periods. The second is an order-taking too long to process if it’s even slightly off-piste. The third is the problem of ‘choice overload’; where meals have a number of customisation options, customers will frequently need to make choices under time pressure as they reach the front of the queue. The fourth is, of course, waiting for your meal at the service counter while others order, leading to bottlenecks and confusion during busy periods.”
Ward also draws on the importance of modules which are durable and easy to maintain. Evoke designed an adaptable modular range where the internal components can be replaced without tools and by non-trained staff. Ward says: “This alone has the potential to save millions on the overall cost of ownership over the product’s (not inconsiderable) lifecycle.”
Working alongside an EPoS provider to tailor a business’s kiosk to its requirements is the best way to achieve profitable results. PointOne has provided Tossed’s EPoS solution for more than a decade, completing a number of customised developments which are specific to the operator’s business model. And with more than 1,300 installations, pointOne has collaborated with restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs among other establishments.
Lolly is another EPoS provider which targets smaller businesses. Its primary product, the LollyTab, is a 10.1-inch Windows tablet PC that is designed to be a queue-busting solution. CEO Peter Moore says it can increase serve by 20%. “If it’s difficult to use and you have to use a manual, we’ve failed. We aim to keep it simple,” he comments.
He believes that contactless is becoming a huge trend at points of sale and insists that operators can drive the adoption of contactless by consumers. With between 40% and 50% of outlets already taking contactless, according to Lolly, more consumers will start to use it. “Without a doubt contactless is getting bigger and bigger. And, certainly with start-ups, they often don’t recognise the value of that or recognise the speed,” continues Moore.
So what of the future of self-service EPoS systems? Will kiosks kill the till? Rolfe believes that, over the next couple of years, more of this kind of technology will be in the QSR sector and potentially elsewhere.
“The casual dining sector could adopt kiosk technology in the form of a customer-facing tablet for ordering, payment, and venue feedback but we don’t believe this is going to be mainstream. However, we do believe there is value here to the right type of operator looking to streamline both the customer experience and the operation so we are extending our current QSR kiosk solution to offer this. There are some exciting opportunities in other sectors and, now that the QSR sector is leading the way, others will follow. B&I is another potential growth area for kiosk technology for corporate office spaces,” says Rolfe.
McDonald’s see kiosks and the customer journey evolving as customer feedback drives changes in system functionality. “We have already made improvements to allow easier customisation of products and also enhanced functionality so vouchers can be redeemed at the kiosk,” its UK spokesperson told FEJ.
It would appear that staff-operated tills are going to be around for the time being, at least in the ‘non-QSR sectors’. But for fast food and, potentially, the casual dining space, self-service kiosks are gaining ground. And with EPoS suppliers providing solutions tailored as much for smaller businesses as larger firms, it seems like it is only a matter of time before many more kitchens are being directed by what customers tap into the screens that greet them.
5 key benefits of self-service kiosks
- Reduces queues during
- Removes cash from the business
- Provides a unique experience for diners
- Supports green operations
by removing paper
- Enhances reputation
as leading, innovative
The ‘Kiosk’: How it works
Healthy eating chain Tossed became the UK’s first ‘cashless’ restaurant using pointOne’s ‘Kiosk’ technology. The Kiosk provides Tossed with the ability to implement a self-service customer ordering and payment solution. Working on an Android platform, and using 10-inch tablets mounted in BouncePad holders, the Kiosk solution enables customers to simply glide through and browse picture-based menu content and nutritional data, create orders and check out with integrated contactless card payments in just a few button presses.
Chain giant makes shift to kiosks
Fast food heavyweight Wendy’s, an established and well-known operator in the US market, pledged earlier this year to convert its entire estate to self-service, using the latest automated kiosk technology.
It began rolling out self-service kiosks to stores in May and hopes to have the systems in all 6,000 sites by the end of the year. As well as making ordering more efficient for customers, Wendy’s believes the move will help it to address the cost impact of minimum wage hikes and a tight labour market, according to US reports.