Considering Self-Order Kiosks? Here’s Where To Start

While kiosk ordering may have seemed like something of the distant future just a few years ago, today kiosks’ arrival in restaurants across the country seems all but inevitable. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King have each all announced large investments into kiosk ordering in their stores, and other brands are taking notice. If you are a decision-maker at a quick-service restaurant brand, there is no doubt you have already begun to wonder about whether now is the right time for your brand to test kiosk ordering. This article covers a few insights we’ve gained from talking to executives across the industry as well as in testing out and expanding kiosk programs with our customers. There are three main questions you should consider. How will kiosk implementation affect store-level operations? Who in your organization will be affected by kiosk implementation? Finally, how will you test your kiosk program?

How will kiosk implementation affect store-level operations?

Implementing kiosk ordering is a big change—your employees and customers alike will need to adapt to this change, and so it is imperative that the transition be as seamless as possible. On the backend, opt for kiosk software that will integrate directly with your POS—this way you will only need to update menu information in one place, and orders will be sent to your kitchens just as they are when a cashier enters the order. From the perspective of your customers, be sure that the kiosk software you choose has a natural, responsive User Interface. A poor User Experience could cause your customers to feel frustrated and they may resent the presence of kiosks in your stores. It’s important that the experience of using kiosks in your stores not just be sufficient, but delightful. This will help win over customers who might be initially hesitant to this new change.

Who in your organization will be affected by kiosk implementation?

Any change in a large organization, even a small change, is likely to meet some friction. Because implementing kiosk will affect multiple departments in your organization—IT, Operations, Marketing, Franchising—you should gain buy-in from members of these departments sooner rather than later. Your choice of a kiosk solution is important here: it will be difficult to gain the support of those in Marketing, for example, if the kiosk software you hope to pilot poorly represents your brand or lacks data reporting functionality. It might be hard to win over your Director of Operations, on the other hand, if the kiosk implementation would involve a serious shift in your restaurant’s store-level operating model. As you move forward with a kiosk software solution, seek the input of other stakeholders involved so that you can enter the pilot with everyone in alignment.

How will you test your kiosk program?

Once you’ve decided kiosk is something you want to concretely explore, the next step is to run a test. It would be foolish, of course, to roll out a new technology in hundreds of locations across the country before testing it out in a few pilot stores. But while the insight to run a test is hardly revolutionary, designing the test so that you can actually learn what you set out to learn is more difficult than it might seem. As you begin to design your kiosk test, consider the following:

What do you want to achieve with kiosk long term?

Identify ideally just one and at most a few long-term goals for kiosk. Why did you decide to explore kiosk? What do you hope to get out of it?

What can you test in the short-term that will shed light on kiosk benefits in the long-term?

What is the outcome that will make you decide to expand the kiosk software into more stores and what outcome would lead you to pull the plug?

How will you measure this outcome throughout the testing period?

Be sure that the metrics are simple and you limit confounding variables that could cloud your results. In our tests, common metrics used are change in average order volume, change in throughput, and change in labor as a percent of sales—but the specific metrics you choose should correspond to your specific goals in implementing kiosk.

As you consider how to develop your kiosk test, keep in mind the importance of working with a kiosk partner that values customer success and will be willing to work with you to make kiosk a success in your stores.

Personalization and the Restaurant Experience

With rapid developments in the sophistication of technology offerings in recent years, consumers have higher expectations than ever regarding personalization. In the U.S. adults are strapped for time, working more hours now than at any point in history, and the limited time these consumers do have will increasingly be given to brands that deliver an experience that is convenient and tailored to customers’ specific needs. Silicon Valley has been the first to answer this call for personalization, with digital native companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify rapidly conquering their respective markets by offering consumers an experience that is individualized and puts ease-of-use above all else.

But while the personalization push has been led by companies operating primarily in digital spaces, consumers look for these same individualized experiences in physical spaces as well. McDonald’s recent acquisition of Dynamic Yield indicates that restaurants, too, will need to innovate toward hyper-personal experiences for their consumers if they wish to compete. In particular, small and medium size restaurant brands (<250 units), that may not have the same resources as a company like McDonald’s for large-scale acquisitions, will need to be thoughtful in partnering with cutting-edge tech companies that can help propel them along in their personalization journey.

Given the clear importance of personalization in the restaurant space, there are three key points on which a restaurant brand should focus in providing an individualized experience to guests that will keep them coming back to your restaurants: an ordering process that is designed for guests’ needs, reduced friction in customer tracking with facial recognition, and data-leveraged product development and marketing.

An ordering process that is designed for guests’ needs

While ten years ago customers might have found it strange for software to predict their cravings better than they did, today customers expect this level of intelligence from their tech. Spotify knows what song befits a sunday afternoon stroll on a rainy street. Amazon knows that a cart with olive oil and onions needs garlic. Consumers turn to software to plan their vacations and even help them meet their future spouses, so it is not surprising that they similarly expect restaurants to tailor the ordering process to their needs. Physical technology such as digital menu boards and self-ordering kiosks provide spaces for tech-driven personalization in the restaurant space. However, choosing the right software to power this hardware is key in ensuring an individualized experience for guests. Look for ordering software that makes recommendations based on your guests’ past experiences and tailors each step of the experience to their needs.

Reduced friction in customer tracking with facial recognition

There is, of course, no better feeling than returning to your favorite restaurant and being greeted by the same face that has greeted you for years. But with labor turnover rates in the QSR and fast casual space notoriously high and still increasing, this feels like an idyllic picture of the past for many restaurants. However, advanced technologies can re-introduce the ease associated with ordering from a server or cashier who remembers you and your favorite order. More than this, though, technologies like facial recognition also allow restaurants to collect data even from customers who have not signed up for loyalty programs, enriching customer data in new ways. Further, customers tracked outside of loyalty programs can be encouraged in creative ways to be brought into the fold of loyalty programs, for example by allowing customers to bank points before registering for the loyalty program and receiving their points upon signup.

Data-leveraged product development and marketing

But how can all this new data be used? Maybe you’ll predict the next super food, or see that consumers are cutting back on sugar before all the headlines in the media. Or perhaps you’ll see that, despite what media reports claim, your sales of glazed crullers are in fact higher than they’ve ever been, and this surge is sales is driven by primarily by men in their late sixties, and men who buy crullers tend to be some of your most loyal customers, so cutting crullers from the menu would be a costly error. When you have the data, you can cut out the guessing. Finding ways to allow customers to seamlessly share their information as part of their dining experience opens a whole world of data-driven product development and marketing. Brands that are innovative in this space will continue to expand their lead on competitors that fail to evolve. The benefits of a sophisticated data-backed operation—guess-free product development, precise audience metrics, etc.—are simply too powerful to ignore.