Custom-built self-order kiosks help brand Denver fast food restaurant

| by Elliot Maras
Custom-built self-order kiosks help brand Denver fast food restaurant

About 90 percent of Birdcall's customers order using the self-serve kiosk. Photo courtesy of Birdcall.

Who says fast food can't be fun as well as convenient?

At Denver-based Birdcall, customers can order an all-natural chicken sandwich for $5.75 in less than a minute. But besides being fast, the experience is enjoyable. Customers build their order on a touchscreen kiosk, watch the order in progress on a monitor, then receive a text when the order is ready for pickup.

Architecture played a role in reinventing what a fast food
restaurant can be for Birdcall.

Partners Peter Newlin and Jean-Philippe Failyau considered every aspect of the fast food experience in designing Birdcall, the first fast food concept for their multibrand restaurant business.

The kiosk is only one aspect — others include the all-natural food and the creative local art and architecture — but it is the most ambitious single investment for 9-month-old Birdcall, which now includes two restaurants.

In planning Birdcall, the partners recognized that self-order kiosks would make the ordering process more efficient and allow the employees to spend more time interacting with guests to ensure an enjoyable dining experience.

"Sometimes I don't think we think about the technology that's available and that can create a better experience," said Newlin.

Kiosks play a key role

The self-order kiosk, which lists ingredients and shows pictures of the menu items, is a key part of ensuring a rewarding customer experience at Birdcall.

"With a kiosk, you're building [ingredients] as you go; you get exactly what you're looking for," Newlin said. The point, however, is the customer experience.

"It's not about the kiosk. It's about coming to Birdcall and eating quality food," he said. "I want them leaving saying, ‘that was a great chicken sandwich.' In the fast food setting, that value's got to be there."

"Birdcall from the beginning was just as much a concept about the food as a concept of how we design the flow of the experience to make sure the guest has a good one," he said.

"Can we provide that [all natural] food in an affordable environment? Of course, it will still be more expensive than a traditional fast food [restaurant], but not much," he said.

Birdcall features sandwiches priced at $5.75, built on buns made daily and using locally sourced chicken with seasoning made from scratch. The average Birdcall ticket ranges between $10 and $12.

Recognizing the challenge

Newlin worked as a server at Park Burger, chef Failyau's first restaurant, while he was in graduate school at the University of Denver. By the time he earned his MBA, he had assumed management responsibilities at the company. 

Customers are texted when orders are ready. They can also
watch a monitor.

Restaurant owners in today's operating environment face the choice of raising the price or lowering the food quality, Newlin said.

Automation is one way of circumventing this choice. He saw self-order kiosks as a tool to enable a restaurant to take better care of its guests.

"We're trying to put the energy back on hospitality," he said.

"We're not trying to replace people; that's not the idea," he said, noting there are two to four employees per shift at Birdcall. "We're trying to keep something as simple as taking the order, and using that efficiency [of the kiosk] to do that."

One employee in the restaurant is in charge of overseeing guest satisfaction. Customers have the option of asking this "floater" to take their order, but about 90 percent use the kiosks.

"They're floating; they're not behind a counter like in a traditional fast food setting," Newlin said. "They're out and about. You cannot eliminate the need to ask a question."

Supporting the brand

Newlin also views the kiosk as part of the restaurant brand experience, something the airlines have already done with check-in kiosks.

Customers pick up their orders from decorative shelves.

"If we are going to be using kiosks, those kiosks need to be unique," Newlin said. "They need to feel like your brand."

After examining commercially available restaurant kiosks, the team was not satisfied with their options.

Taking on the challenge

Newlin did not think commercially available restaurant kiosks provided an easy enough user experience. So, the team took on the task of designing its own kiosk software.

"There are a lot of barriers to entry in building custom software," he said. "For us, it was worth the risk. We've had to work through a lot of things we've learned through the process of building custom software."

Birdcall's design team worked with Zenman, a Denver digital marketing firm, on the kiosk design.

Newlin did not wish to reveal the investment the company made in creating the software, other than to say that it was "huge."

"We actually built a full functioning point-of-sale system," he said. 

Birdcall's owners believe its self-order kiosks are easy for
any customer to use.

The team first installed three kiosks in the restaurants to make sure the kitchen could handle the orders efficiently, then added a fourth.

"You can always make those adjustments. That's the cool thing about kiosks," he said. "It's all dependent on the team that's in there."

The team also created a system for age verification for alcohol orders. The system ensures that someone physically verifies the customer's identification if they order alcohol.

Growth in different directions

Birdcall will also have a mobile app, but it had not been released at the time of this report. Newlin wants to see it rolled out sometime this year. 

Long-term, he foresees growing Birdcall through company-owned stores and franchises. The company also plans to market its technology to other restaurants.

In the short term, the company plans to continue opening restaurants.

"Each new opening is better than the previous opening," he said.

Photos courtesy of Birdcall


Topics: Customer Experience, Interactive / Touchscreen, Kiosk Branding, Restaurants



Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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