Limited-service restaurants take the lead with self-order kiosks as technology evolves

| by Elliot Maras
Limited-service restaurants take the lead with self-order kiosks as technology evolves

Restaurants are finally realizing how self-serve kiosks can improve the in-store customer experience. They not only provide consumers access to extensive product information with a greater degree of privacy but also free up staff to interact with guests.

As Kiosk Marketplace readers already know, some of the most high-profile companies taking advantage of these benefits are limited-service restaurants, such as McDonald's, Wendy's, Subway and Panera Bread.

Order-and-pay at restaurants was one of the most commonly cited applications among self-serve kiosk operators last year, according to the 2018 Kiosk Marketplace Census. Survey respondents noted self-order kiosks improve customer service, boost customer satisfaction, strengthen customer perception of the company and enhance the company's competitive position.

Most observers expect the progress to continue in the restaurant space as both kiosk hardware and software evolve to make the kiosk ordering experience more intuitive.

"The touchscreen needs to be intuitive," said Ron Bowers, senior vice president of retail technology development at Frank Mayer and Associates Inc., which specializes in kiosk design. 

"What you're seeing now are designs that are extremely user-friendly and intuitive," said Bowers, noting that the capabilities and compactness of today's payment scanners allow for a more intuitive kiosk design.

Complementary technologies

Kiosks are not arriving in a vacuum, however. They are moving into limited-service restaurants in concert with other technologies such as mobile order and pay. The combination of these different technologies creates a wealth of ways to improve the customer's ordering experience.

The kiosk can be introduced in combination with a smartphone, Bowers said.

"If they (the customer) can have a coupon on their smartphone, it's just integrating the whole process that much more."

According to the National Restaurant Association's 2016 restaurant technology survey, 42 percent of limited-service restaurants are already using touchscreen ordering kiosks — more than double the number for overall restaurants — while nearly half of the limited serve restaurants (49 percent) already have both online ordering and mobile payment. 

Bowers observed that kiosks are important in the overall digital experience since they offer a faster and more convenient way for both the brand and consumer to meet their expectations.

"Consumers are anticipating and expecting the time that it takes to come in, place their order, grab it and go, to be of equal, if not greater, than what Starbucks is doing," Bowers said. "When a consumer comes into any one of these places, the opportunity to get served in a quick and timely fashion is extremely important."

Personalizing the experience

One of the top benefits that kiosks provide restaurants is freeing up staff to interact more with the guests.

"The focus will shift from the personnel behind the counter taking the order to being out in front of the customer as a brand ambassador and to assist the customer placing orders on a kiosk," said David Anzia, senior vice president of sales at Frank Mayer and Associates. "The front-facing personnel will have the ability to interact more effectively with the consumer without being separated by the counter." 

"Greeting guests as they arrive, or providing help once seated, you are giving a warmer experience where it actually counts," agreed Hope Nieman, chief marketing officer at Tillster, a kiosk technology provider. 

What's next?

The opportunity to further improve the customer experience is expected to continue as technology progresses. Technologies such facial recognition, voice recognition, gesture recognition, virtual reality and augmented reality will offer new ways to make the customer experience more personal.

"It's still a ways off, but it is definitely something that is part of our plan," said Pat Sugrue, president of Saladworks, a fast casual restaurant franchise organization that has introduced self-order kiosks to some of its restaurants. He said facial recognition will increase the personalization of the customer ordering experience, as well as streamline the ordering process.

"Just to walk up and for it to recognize and populate my preferences and the information that I'm going to want to talk about and greet me by my name is where we're going; it's certainly something we're staying very aware of," Sugrue said.

"With tools that can remember the guest, it can easily pull up past orders and customizations, which make them feel more valued and create an easier experience," agreed Tillster's Neiman.

"Kiosks will be used for more customized user experiences, where the screens change based on the customer preferences, age, loyalty status or order history," said Frank Wagner, senior director global hospitality market development at NCR Corp., a technology and omnichannel solutions provider. 

"The Alexa concept is growing by leaps and bounds daily," said Bowers, who sees a role for both facial and voice recognition in restaurants. He said Alexa has already released an API for retail applications. 

"The idea of facial recognition and voice technology integrated into a loyalty program for the brand is a natural," Bowers said, adding that virtual reality and augmented reality will become part of it as well. 
"Many companies are working on products that make using a kiosk ‘an experience,' but in the end, it comes down to ease-of-use and fast transaction speed," said Wagner. "Therefore, voice recognition may be the biggest play for the future."

How fast will things change?

How soon these new technologies take hold in the restaurant space remains to be seen, however.

"These technologies have proven successful in sample applications, but I am not certain on their mass market appeal," Anzia of Frank Mayer and Associates said.

"The self-ordering kiosk market is in its infancy," he said. "Those QSRs and fast casual restaurants willing to invest in a solid software program and a well-engineered kiosk enclosure that meets the needs of all customers, including ADA compliance, will serve the brands well."

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Topics: Customer Experience, Kiosk Design, Manufacturers, Restaurants, Trends / Statistics

Companies: NCR Corporation, Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc., McDonald's, Panera Bread

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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