Many of the guest benefits of self-service kiosks are obvious—when was the last time most consumers stepped inside a bank or gas station? “Standing in line and telling someone how to build your burrito goes pretty fast,” says Randy White, VP of retail IT for Focus Brands, who oversees POS and other tech across its brands, including McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s, Cinnabon and Schlotzsky’s. “If you can do it yourself from a kiosk, without that extra layer of communication, imagine how much faster the process can be.”
It’s a direction a lot of the big chains are headed. McDonald’s has revamped stores into the chain’s “experience of the future” model, which includes kiosks (see Page 72). Restaurant Business International, parent of Burger King and Tim Hortons, has rolled out kiosks in some international markets, and is testing them in the U.S. And Wendy’s is testing kiosks in Ohio, with plans to install them in 1,000 units by 2018.
Implementation is happening quickly, but there are several factors to consider when making the tech-heavy transition so operators and guests don’t feel a negative impact.
“Does your guest know your brand well enough? Do they know your menu?” asks White. Loyal customers are more likely to seek out a kiosk, but new guests may need more guidance, he says. If the kiosk is on the counter, a cashier can be at hand; but for freestanding units, White uses managers like greeters to pull customers over and help improve guest buy-in. “You have to train the guests on the new options,” he says.
White points out that kiosks may require extra staff to funnel orders in peak periods, like an expediter. With more orders coming in from multiple channels (kiosk, online, register, etc.), someone monitoring tickets for the kitchen may aid operations. It’s a process under review for Cinnabon, where it’s not unusual for a single staffer to work the whole store.
Since launching kiosk-forward fast casual Wow Bao in 2009, the Lettuce Entertain You concept has reduced the number of registers in its stores; some have just one. “It’s beneficial from both an equipment and labor standpoint,” says Geoff Alexander, EVP of LEYE’s Wow Bao division. The machines never need training, time off or a raise, he says, and they are always upselling. “We ... ask the guest if they want the add-on, yes or no. The kiosk always asks the same questions with each order, where a cashier may give up,” Alexander says.
In 2014, Focus Brands CIO Michael Verdesca began integrating over 20 different POS systems across its brands, replacing most of its hardware. The upfront investment in an open API eased integration of new technologies, such as mobile apps, digital menu boards and kiosks.
One kiosk-forward POS feature that has proven effective: separate cashier and kiosk modes. It opens the guest-facing kiosk software to modification without affecting the cashier’s tasks—and vice versa. “It also maximizes ROI on our POS, because any of the [cashier] stations can be turned around and placed in kiosk mode at lower-volume times,” says White.
The next frontier?
Wow Bao added a new method for saving orders: facial recognition. “It snaps a photo, and takes about one second to match up,” says Alexander. “Hit ‘Repeat order’ and it will scan you and bring up your last four orders.” So far, he says, the only hang-up has been with guest height versus the height of the kiosk.
KFC China is testing the tech in its Beijing store on digital menu boards to make menu suggestions based on age, gender and facial expression, but facial recognition is prohibited in Texas and Illinois without prior guest opt-in.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.