Top 10 stories of 2017: Self-order food kiosks dominate reader interest

| by Elliot Maras
Top 10 stories of 2017: Self-order food kiosks dominate reader interest

Image courtesy of iStock

Two thousand seventeen was the year for foodservice in the self-serve kiosk industry.

Foodservice order and pay kiosks dominated reader interest, according to an analysis of the best read articles on Kiosk Marketplace. Among the 10 most popular stories, six were about foodservice applications.

While foodservice grabbed the limelight, reader interest was still fairly diverse. The four stories that made the list that were not about foodservice addressed disability access regulations, Redbox, micro markets and automated convenience stores. 

The interest in foodservice applications can easily be attributed to the fact that several national foodservice chains — including McDonald's, Wendy's, Subway and Johnny Rockets — have recently announced self-serve kiosk deployments. 

While restaurants account for a small share of total self-serve kiosk applications (less than 5 percent, according to a recent Kiosk Marketplace reader survey), the investment by these national operations reflects an increasing public acceptance of self-serve kiosks.

1.    Self-order kiosks make a big splash at NRA Show

The best read story in 2017 was a summary of self-serve kiosk introductions at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago.

The article described 17 self-serve kiosk exhibits on the trade show floor at Chicago's McCormick Place, including Oracle Hospitality, NCR Hospitality, Diebold Nixdorf, BrightSign, Nextep, Zivelo, eTouchMenu, Coates Group, Eat365, TouchBistro, MXH Hospitality, Ziosk, POSitouch, Panasonic, SlabbKiosks, Toast and Lavu.

The exhibits demonstrated that many kiosk hardware and software providers have recognized the importance of integrating self-serve kiosks with mobile ordering, point-of-sale systems and back-end software to minimize the amount of work required to allow a restaurant to deliver a seamless customer experience.

2.    ADA lawsuits targeting kiosks: part 1

The second best read story addressed disability access lawsuits, an ongoing issue that continues to dog self-service technology. The story was the first in a three-part series summarizing the numerous lawsuits against kiosk deployments for failing to provide access to the visually impaired.

The article explored five lawsuits against companies for failing to provide sufficient disability access to self-serve machines: Target, Walmart, Coca Cola Refreshments USA, Eatsa, and JetBlue Airways. 

Accessibility for the visually impaired presents some unique challenges since the laws do not specify how devices should provide access. As assistive technologies improve, disability advocates are expecting self-serve kiosks to incorporate new technologies to improve access.

Some lawsuits have claimed that the machines fall under the law's definition of "places of public accommodation," meaning a piece of equipment that exists within a public place is, standing by itself, a "sales establishment" within the meaning of the law and therefore a place of public accommodation separate and apart from the public accommodation in which it is located.

3.    Redbox pushes back under new ownership

Redbox, considered by many to be the most successful self-serve kiosk company until its popularity peaked in 2012, made headlines in 2017 when, under new ownership, the company announced plans to add 1,500 kiosks. Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm, acquired Redbox's parent company, Outerwall, for $1.6 billion last fall. Apollo split Outerwall's three segments into distinct businesses, separating Redbox from Coinstar and ecoATM.

CEO Galen Smith disputed the perception that streaming video will replace home movie rentals. He said consumers will choose discs over streaming video on account of quality, as well value for their dollar. He further claimed new video releases will not be available on streaming platforms (Internet, satellite or cable) for nine to 12 months, if at all.

Redbox has since rolled out Redbox On Demand, offering a larger selection of movies and TV shows via transactional video on demand and electronic sell-through, enabling customers to rent or purchase downloadable content for streaming. 

4.    KFC to launch 5,000 kiosks with facial recognition to predict customers' orders in China

The announcement that a KFC restaurant in Beijing is using a kiosk with facial recognition software to predict what a customer might order was the fourth most popular story. The company plans to roll out the technology to 5,000 stores in China.

The brand partnered with tech firm Baidu, often viewed as China's Google, to develop the software for what is described as the country's first "smart" restaurant.

Customers can pay with their smartphone and pick up the order at the counter.

Artificial intelligence, while not yet widely used by self-serve kiosks, is one of the technologies readers are keeping an eye on. 

5.    Vending/micro market veteran ready to take on Amazon Go

News about Amazon draws reader interest in most technology news outlets, and Kiosk Marketplace is no exception. The fifth most popular story described a new technology that, like Amazon Go, will allow stores to operate without checkout clerks. 

Tom Murn, a veteran vending and micro market operator, has launched a "multi-sensor checkout" technology that enables consumers to purchase products from a shelf without having to swipe a payment card or open a mobile wallet. Instead, sensors built into the shelf authorize payment to the customer's account. The inventory management system allows the operator to monitor the machines' inventory remotely, in real time.

Murn said his ViaTouch servers are ready to cover retail environments.

6.    Subway announces self-order kiosks in 12 pilot locations

Subway joined the list of national restaurant chains offering self-serve kiosks when it formally announced its "Fresh Forward" design at 12 pilot locations, along with digital menu boards and Samsung Pay and Apple Pay options.

The chain already supported Apple Pay, but only for conventional orders.

The pick-up space will also handle preorders made through the company's iPhone app, which is being updated with its own Apple Pay compatibility. Mobile users have to manually add a credit, debit or Subway card.

7.    UFood Grill's self-serve kiosk recognizes customers' faces

A story about how one UFood Grill franchisee deployed self order kiosks equipped with facial recognition technology was the sixth most popular article. 

Customers at a UFood Grill in Owings Mills, Maryland can choose to order at one of the two kiosks or place their orders at the traditional cashier counter. Kiosk users are asked if they would like to add their phone number or have a photo taken to make future orders easier. Once the order is ready, the servers call out the customer by name to pick up their order at the counter. 

Benefits include increased order accuracy, reduced food waste and increased guest satisfaction,

The two Nextep kiosks at UFood replace one cashier and help the chain upsell by asking customers if they'd like an add on. The kiosk also provides ingredient information, saving both the customer and the staff time asking and answering questions.

The kiosks not only make it easier for customers to order, they also help employees manage operations by offering a user-friendly POS experience and other capabilities.

Because some customers consider facial recognition as invasive, the camera is only turned on if they request to either store an order or look up previous orders. 

8.   McDonald's will have 2,500 'Experience of the Future' restaurants in 2017

McDonald's announced plans to accelerate its deployment of ordering kiosks under a long-term growth plan unveiled during its company investor day presentation in March.

The company said it would have approximately 2,500 "Experience of the Future" restaurants by the end of 2017. The initiative leverages the convenience and technology of kiosk ordering and table service, increasing the functionality of its mobile app.

McDonald's said it is bringing greater control, convenience and personalization to customers through the use of kiosks to place orders, staffed with guest experience leaders to assist in the process.

Customers can place their order and skip the front counter entirely, with their food brought right to their table.

Additionally, customers can place orders directly on the mobile app for pickup or have a kiosk recognize their app.

9.    Has the time finally arrived in the US for the automated c-store?

Automated stores have existed for decades, but they have generally been unsuccessful in the U.S. due to cost. Today's retail technology could be changing that. The ninth best read story reviewed recent attempts to bring a profitable automated store to market.

One example is Amazon Go, which allows shoppers to enjoy the convenience of shopping without the need to stop and check out.

Some observers think recent developments — such as more versatile inventory supply chains, the growth of "food deserts," and the rising cost of labor — have created a new demand for automated retail formats.

Automated stores come in different forms. They can be free-standing terminals where consumers purchase products from shelves, similar to a vending machine. They can also be stores that the consumer enters and buys products, such as Amazon Go.

The article reviewed numerous automated stores tested over the years, including the "Keedoozle" in the 1930s; the "SmartMart" drive-up store where people order on a touchscreen and pay using cash or card; the Shop 2000, a 150-square-foot glassfront machine that dispensed up to 200 SKUs of varying shapes, sizes and temperature needs; the Tik Tok DVD shop, which was eventurally renamed Redbox; and the Shop 24 that dispensed snacks, cleaning supplies, medicine and full meals in a fraction of the time it takes to shop at a traditional convenience store.

10.    Self-order kiosks play key role in Subway's tech redesign

The tenth best read story in 2017 explored the role of self-serve kiosks in Subway's "Fresh Forward" redesign.

When paying at the kiosk, the customer can use a credit card, Apple Pay or Android Pay, but not cash. In addition to placing orders faster and ensuring order accuracy, the kiosks allow patrons to customize their orders.

The kiosks are separate from the pick-up area in order to prevent congestion. The positioning of the kiosk within the store depends on the amount of square footage available. In some stores, the kiosks are up against a wall, while in those with less room to work, the kiosks are up against windows. 

When it came to integrating the kiosks within the restaurant environment, the priority was to create a prominent view from not only the entry, but clear visibility from the exterior as well.

Integrating the kiosk with Subway's existing software systems was challenging. The kiosk had to integrate with Subway's existing product catalog, payment system and POS system in a limited time period.

Topics: Bill Payment Kiosks, Customer Experience, DVD Kiosks, Restaurants, Retail, Trends / Statistics

Companies: NCR, DIEBOLD NIXDORF, NEXTEP SYSTEMS, Panasonic, TouchBistro, BrightSign, Oracle, ZIVELO LLC, SlabbKiosks, Toast, Inc.

Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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