Hungry customers going into a fast food or quick-serve restaurant may have already seen a new addition: self-serve kiosks.
Industry giant McDonald’s made headlines in 2016 when it introduced a touchscreen kiosk that allows customers to order existing menu items or even create a custom burger. Wendy’s, Panera, and Protein Bar followed suit, announcing that they would also implement kiosks, hoping to speed up customer wait times, improve order accuracy, and create value by integrating with loyalty programs like the MyPanera rewards.
Indeed, the “kiosk craze” led Business Insider to dramatically proclaim, “The age of the restaurant self-service kiosk has dawned, and it’s the end of fast food as we know it.”
Experts have been wrong about technologies that were expected to take off before, but with battles over increased minimum wage and ever-rising healthcare costs, will kiosks be the silver bullet for fast food restaurants and QSRs looking to cut expenses? And what are the cons to weigh against the possible pro of saving on labor?
The Pros of Fast Food Kiosks
The obvious possible pro for the restaurant owner or franchisee is labor savings. As one of the most costly business expenses, managing payroll is crucial to a healthy bottom line.
For the customer, kiosks have the potential to reduce wait times and improve both order accuracy and efficiency, though whether that happens depends in part on how the kiosk fits into the business’ overall workflow.
“We want people to be able to have their own journey,” said Jon Arbitman of Protein Bar about kiosks in their franchise. “Kiosks offer an avenue for customers to forge their own journey – seeing the items as they’re browsing the menu on the kiosk and selecting exactly what they want. Our mission is to change the way people eat on the go and the kiosks support that goal, making the process even faster for our customers who want to get in and out quickly. We’re also seeing higher average ticket size because people buy with their eyes. They’re adding more items to their kiosk basket than they would at the counter."
Panera, which also has self-service kiosks, explains that this customer benefit of kiosks comes from redistributing workers to where they’re most needed.
For example, if less cashiers are needed to take orders and make change, more staff can be utilized in the kitchen to help ensure customers receive their order more quickly. For fast food and quick-serve businesses, saving time is paramount and providing meals quickly increases customer satisfaction.
The Cons of Fast Food Kiosks
At the time of this article, self-serve kiosks are still pricey for many businesses.
Michal Addady, in an article for Fortune, reports that installing kiosks costs franchisees between $120,000 - $160,000; not exactly pocket change. Additionally, Addady states that 70% of McDonald’s sales come from drive-through orders, meaning that the kiosks would only potentially be used by - at most - 30% of customers. For some locations, the cost may outweigh rewards. Even restaurants that don’t offer drive-through may still find the expense of installing kiosks out of reach at this time.
Companies like Toast, however, offer kiosks at a cheaper price point than self service kiosk companies, making it more affordable for smaller restaurants to implement and test this technology in their concepts.
On the customer side, some diners prefer the ability to interact with a staff member rather than another screen. Older customers and those not familiar or comfortable with technology may be resistant to learning a new system, even one that’s claimed to be user-friendly, or may actually slow down the line as they fumble through the ordering process. As CardFellow.com reported in an article on self-checkout pros and cons, some retailers found these problems too large to overcome and removed their self-serve lanes.
In the same way that non-food service businesses have been able to leverage human receptionists as a selling point after the rise of automated phone systems – “Talk to a real human” they may say in ads – so, too, could restaurants point to lack of kiosks as an indication of dedication to customer service with a personal, human touch.
Additionally, some people worry about kiosks’ displacement of workers. With battles over minimum wage raging constantly and healthcare costs rising as automation costs are shrinking, installing kiosks can save money.
However, as noted in the “pros” section, kiosks may simply shift worker focus, allowing for human work where it’s needed most, and letting technology do lower level tasks. McDonald’s spokespeople are on record as stating that cashiers will still take orders, and that kiosks are offered as an option for customers, not a requirement.
Still, there’s nothing to say that couldn’t change in the future.
Further pointing to a possible loss of jobs, other companies have been explicit about the intention of replacing workers with kiosks. Andy Pudzer, who owns the parent company of chains including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., stated that he’d be interested in trying a setup where customers interact solely with kiosks. When asked whether customers might find the experience impersonal, he explained that he sees that as a benefit to some demographics, like millennials, and pointed out that kiosks don’t have the drawbacks of humans. That is, kiosks don’t take vacations or need breaks.
What's your opinion on fast food kiosks?
As fast food kiosk technology advances and costs come down, more fast food and quick serve restaurants may turn to them as a tool for both labor savings and increased customer satisfaction. However, be sure to weigh all the pros and cons, and consider starting with kiosks as an additional option to cashiers rather than a replacement.
Would you add kiosks to your quick service operation? Why or why not?