Long lines at kiosks can stress customers, study finds

Guests feel more rushed and order less food when others queue up behind them, according to new research from Temple University.
Kiosk customer
Kiosk customers feel a responsibility to keep the line moving, the research found. | Photo: Shutterstock

It is now conventional wisdom that customers tend to spend more at a restaurant when they order at a self-service kiosk rather than with a cashier.

But new research highlights an important caveat to that behavior: Kiosk customers may order less food when people are lined up behind them.

The study by researchers at Temple University found that when a consumer knows a queue is forming behind them at a kiosk, they may feel anxious and order fewer items than when transacting with a human behind the counter.

They may also default to items they’re familiar with rather than trying something new, according to the study by Associate Professor Lu Lu and Ph. D. candidate Wangoo Lee of Temple's School of Sport, Tourism, and Hospitality Management.

The findings add a fresh wrinkle to the growing buzz around kiosks, which have caught on as a way for restaurants to redeploy labor, boost ticket sizes and generally operate more efficiently. 

Many consumers say they enjoy ordering from kiosks. According to a recent survey by software provider Tillster, 57% of customers said they wished restaurants had more kiosks available, up from 36% last year. And nearly 4 out of 5 said that they have ordered more food than they were planning to when using a kiosk.

But a long line at a customer’s back may affect those choices, according to the Temple study.

To get their results, the researchers designed a website that simulated the experience of ordering at a fast-casual restaurant. Participants were given a description of the restaurant and were asked to imagine that a line was forming behind them. The researchers kept track of what they ordered, how long they browsed the menu and how much money they spent.

Participants then completed a survey where they described their experience. Those who ordered from a kiosk said they felt a responsibility to keep the line moving.

“When you’re working with a human employee to place your order and there’s a service mishap or delay, you can attribute that fault to the employee,” said Lu in a statement. “But when self-service technology is used for placing an order, more of that responsibility is shifted to the customer. This is especially true when there is a waiting line.”

So, how can restaurants cut down on lines at their kiosks? The Temple team studied different line formats and found that using a single queue for multiple kiosks eased anxiety for customers.

“When each kiosk has its own line, the customer ordering feels responsible for the people waiting in line,” Lu said. “But when one line feeds multiple kiosks, the group of customers placing their order shares responsibility for the people waiting in line.”

The researchers also suggested that restaurants create a “virtual” line by using a digital waitlist function, or make waiting in line more productive by displaying the menu in such a way that customers can browse while they wait.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


There's plenty happening at the high end of the pricing barbell, too

Reality Check: Decadent meal choices are also proliferating, for a lot more than $5.


Reassessing McDonald's tech deals from 2019

The Bottom Line: The fast-food giant’s decision to end its drive-thru AI test with IBM is the latest pullback away from a pair of technology acquisitions it made five years ago.


Trend or fad? These restaurant currents could go either way

Reality Check: A number of ripples were evident in the business during the first half of the year. The question is, do they have staying power?


More from our partners