Read this before you decide to build a self-order solution in-house

Many underestimate the commitment that goes into owning and maintaining a piece of software. We’ve put together a guide that explores some of the underestimated costs of building software, and why it likely makes sense to look for a preexisting SaaS solution.

Last month, Stripe engineer and tech writer Noah Pepper published an article titled “The Treacherously High Cost of Software”. The article touches on a question that many decision-makers in our space face regularly: when to find a preexisting software solution, and when to build it in-house? As Noah’s article illustrates, the answer is that in most cases building software in-house should be avoided. That is because it is far more expensive than many people realize.

So why is software so expensive to maintain?

The world is always changing.

As Noah writes, “Just treading water costs money if you want to be compliant, secure and operable …

Your software does not run in a vacuum—the world around it is in constant flux and thus for it to remain effective it must keep pace when the external world forces a change.

If you’re considering building self-order kiosk software in-house, think about what other software platforms it will need to communicate with. Do you rely on outside vendors for your POS software? How about your loyalty platform? Your backend analytics platform? If any of the vendors you work with for these other pieces of software make a change or update to their product, your proprietary software may no longer properly communicate with it. You will need engineers on staff who are kept abreast of these updates and can get to work immediately so that your guests don’t find themselves trying to order from a broken kiosk. Some restaurant brands may decide that is a price they are willing to pay, but anyone making the decision to build in-house should seriously consider this scenario.

But it isn’t only the world around your business that is in flux.

Your needs will change, too.

As Noah writes, the problem with building in-house is “you end up either 1) Writing a specific purpose built solution that will break when you shift your business requirements or 2) Creating a generalized customizable platform that anticipates a broad array of use cases.” Let’s explore this a bit.

In the first case, you have spent money on something that may be obsolete when you inevitably decide at some point down the road that you aren’t indefinitely going to do business exactly as you do today.

In the second case, you need to build a flexible, customizable platform, and that is a very expensive proposition. It is what we are doing at Bite, and it takes a lot of time and effort. It makes sense for us, because we work with a lot of different restaurant brands with different needs and tech stacks that are constantly changing. We benefit from making a tailor-made solution for each of our brands, because there are others out there who can also benefit from that solution. When you are building software in-house to be used by your company alone, this potential upside doesn’t exist.

That’s where we come in.

This is something we at Bite understand very well. As our product has grown in complexity it has naturally grown more costly to maintain—but that is a burden we are eager to bear because this is our core business and our core mission. 

At Bite Kiosk, we live and breathe self-order. We are thinking day in and day out about how we can improve your guests’ self-order experience while in turn providing you a return on your monthly investment in us. We believe that kiosk ordering is the future and it is a future we are ushering in—not just because the numbers make sense but because we believe that our software will elevate hospitality everywhere, empowering guests to order on their own terms and matching the fast pace of their increasingly busy lives. 

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.