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Lining up behind restaurant kiosks


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A concept photo shows how a kiosk setup could look.

The first commercial kiosk went live in 1985 to sell shoes. It worked OK. But just watch the lines at the airport or the grocery store, and the logjam of people behind check-in or self-checkout kiosks makes it clear— today’s consumers love to do it themselves.

As the technology surges into the restaurant space, customers are ready. In a new survey from digital ordering solutions firm Tillster, respondents overwhelmingly said they like the technology, and 60 percent of customers would visit a restaurant more frequently if it had self-serve kiosks.

Those trends make Tillster CEO Perse Faily’s job a little easier. “It’s an exciting time for us. For a long time we’ve been evangelizing what technology can do to change the restaurant,” said Faily. “In the past few years, operators have started to believe that.”

Another important question from the survey was about waiting in line. Of the 2,000 respondents, 57 percent said they would walk right out of a restaurant if there was a line of five people or more. If there are seven people, that number rises to 71 percent and if there are 10 people in line, 91 percent of respondents would leave. And if the line lengths were equal, a third of respondents said they would prefer the kiosk.

Faily said that has been a big reason operators are keen on installing kiosks, to reallocate labor from order-taking to order fulfillment and driving the ratio of sales per labor hour higher. And while just 18 percent of respondents in that survey said they had actually used a kiosk in the past three months, the efficiencies have been pretty well established. Easing that labor situation via kiosks is something many operators are coming around to despite the up-front costs.

“It’s interesting, if you had asked me that a couple years ago, it was franchisors pushing for it. Now what we’re seeing in the last couple years, the franchisees are pushing the franchisor as much,” said Faily. “I think there is general enthusiasm.”

Of course it has to fit with the existing restaurant technology. That means it’s not simply the cost of the kiosk, which can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands. McDonald’s said it would cost franchisees between $120,000 and $160,000 to implement the kiosks along with a suite of other technology and updates under the Experience of the Future program.

While BurgerFi COO Steven Buckley said retrofits among his more than 100 corporate and franchised locations don’t reach that height, they’re closer to the $30,000 range including the kiosk.

“It does require a retrofit where we have to build in the new systems. You can’t just take a legacy restaurant and add the kiosk. It requires the entire POS be replaced with new technology which is all cloud-based and the kiosk is just one piece of that,” said Buckley. He said in the 10 percent of restaurants with kiosks, the devices account for 20 percent of sales. Overall digital sales including mobile and web ordering account for 30 percent of sales, so kiosks are a hearty bite of the digital business.

As seen in most digital-ordering platforms, the ticket averages are higher, now that restaurants and retailers have largely figured out the ecommerce tactic of nudging customers to buy more and more.

“We will actually see an increase of 20 to 25 percent on the kiosk,” said Buckley. “The ticket average is bumped because of a number of reasons. It walks the customer very clearly through the options. It has an upsell function where the computer knows to make suggestions to the guest based on their order.”

High-margin toppings are a big way to drive up the price of a typical item, and scrumptious images of sides and desserts are hard to say no to. In a typical line, those add-ons increase complexity for the order taker and slow things down.

And who wants to be the customer listing chili, cheese, bacon, grilled mushrooms and a fried egg aloud? Buckley said there’s a psychological component to the kiosk tickets—of course the customer always wants those toppings, but might be embarrassed to walk through them in person. 

BurgerFi partnered with NexTep Systems on the technology. NexTep sales manager Steve Dombroski said the first thing they did was make sure the solution fit the brand.

“You really want your brand to come though on that design. We have an in-house design team that is charged with taking this brand, their colors, their actual pictures of their menu items and we build out their menu items,” said Dombroski. He said they have to walk through the order procedure, too, ensuring upsell options and suggestions come at the right time.

As every retailer knows, location matters, too. Because the technology is new, it must work in tandem with a lifetime of restaurant habits. So when customers walk in, the kiosk needs to be visible.

“The best practice is right up front at the front counter; how many depends on the volume,” said Dombroski, noting kiosks behind the line or squeezed into a corner are “not really profitable.”

The final piece to the kiosk puzzle actually requires a little human interaction. “We found that having a brand ambassador in the store the first few weeks is a good strategy.

That way if you see customers hesitate you can help them out and guide them through,” said Liah Luther, marketing manager at NexTep.

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