restaurant kiosks

At the 2018 National Restaurant Association the number of self-checkout kiosks being showcased almost tripled from just one year earlier. With 79% of customers saying that they believe restaurant kiosks make their experience more convenient, according to NRA data, expect it to be a growing trend.

If you own a casual or quick service restaurant, staying on top of self-service kiosk technology is a wise idea.

The Evolution of Self Service Kiosks in Restaurants

Customers have grown accustomed to helping themselves at many dining establishments over the years, whether it’s placing their orders at counters or choosing items from a buffet and paying for them. What’s evolved over the last few years is the ability to do this on self-checkout screens.

Today, customers scan, select, and swipe their credit cards on on-screen menus to place orders, and make payments without involving other humans. Many major fast food establishments from McDonald’s to Panera Bread are making the self-service kiosk experience the norm. Most of the 14,000 McDonald’s locations in the U.S. will have ordering kiosks by 2020; Taco Bell is aiming to have them in all locations by the end of 2019.

Other restaurant chains have incorporated smaller scale digital tablets at tables to showcase menu specials, order drinks, and make payments through self-checkout screens.

Now that it’s becoming the norm, is a payment kiosk system something you should consider for your business? Read on for some pros and cons.

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Pros of Restaurant Kiosks

The main appeal of self-checkout kiosks is to make the ordering process more efficient, which is why they have become popular in fast food chains. The idea isn’t to hire fewer humans but to utilize them in other roles that can improve the customer experience.

For example, with fewer people working cashier registers, there will be more staff to assemble orders more quickly to reduce wait times. In addition, workers can actually walk around and strike up conversations with guests to make sure they are satisfied.

Fast food kiosks can also help with order accuracy and customization. If you’ve ever tried to request changes to regular items at a fast food counter, you know that it can be a frustrating process. But on a kiosk, you can simply add/delete ingredients and make specifications for how you’d like your food to be prepared.

Another reason why fast casual business owners are all in on self-checkout kiosks is that customers tend to spend more. In other words, payment kiosk systems never forget to ask, “do you want fries with that?” One study found that at McDonald’s, when guests did their own orders, they spend 30% more; and 20% more at Taco Bell. That’s because when prompted to add on extra condiments or drinks, people are more likely to do so on a screen.

friends eating at a restaurant grand opening

Cons of Restaurant Kiosks

Anytime you add technology to your business, it requires an up-front investment, and that might be something that independent restaurant owners can’t do. According to QSRMagazine.com, the typical cost per kiosk (which includes the display, scanner, credit card reader, and receipt printer) is about $5,000. The cost can climb depending on what type of customizations restaurants decide to add. Now, figure you need at least a couple of kiosks, and suddenly you’re into the five figures.

Another downside is that once you leave orders to the customers, you can lose out on some of the human customer service touches. Especially at sit down establishments, guests often ask waitstaff for recommendations or have questions about how dishes are prepared. You can’t do that on a screen. That’s why for the most part when it comes to ordering, self-checkout kiosks are better for quick-service or chain restaurant operations. At least for now, don’t expect to see restaurant kiosks at fine dining establishments.

Depending on your target customer base, there is also the possibility that people just won’t like having to rely on technology to order and pay for their meal. In a poll released by MSN, 78 percent of diners said they were less likely to eat at a restaurant with self-ordering kiosks.

Is a Restaurant Kiosk Right for You?

If you’re not sure how your customers might respond to adding self-checkout kiosks, here are a few things to consider before you take the plunge.  

What kind of customers and restaurant you have

If you provide a fast-casual experience and your patrons tend to skew on the younger side, they might respond better to a self-serve kiosk. If you have a burger place that boasts the ability to customize 100 different burger combinations, it could be simpler for a family of four to just check off boxes on a menu screen rather than list their toppings and hope the server gets it right. On the other hand, if your establishment is more of a relaxed atmosphere you’ll probably want to ease into any digital updates slowly, and with a human touch.

Feedback from your waitstaff and customers

Do you often hear that service takes too long? Do lines to pay at the counter tend to run long during busy periods? Do you have so many menu options that mistakes occur frequently? Ordering and payment kiosks might be able to help you solve some of these challenges.

Consider a hybrid approach

Some chain restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings and Chilis offer guests the ability to look at menu items, order drinks and pay their bills using tablets, without having to sit around waiting for waitstaff.

While it’s not exactly a kiosk, it is a form of self-service that is catching on. This solution has some of the same pros as self-service kiosks, such as speeding up service and making your waitstaff more efficient. But at the same time, diners get the best of both worlds since they can still have access to humans who can share menu suggestions, answer questions, and provide friendly service.

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Dawn Papandrea is freelance writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Family Circle, WomansDay.com, and more. She loves trying new restaurants with her family and friends in her spare time.