5 Things We Learned About Self-Ordering Tech While Cooking It Up

July 21, 2017 Frank Caron


While we know daily life in a restaurant moves at lightning speed, it’s no secret that the industry has been a little slow to adopt new technology – especially when compared to its retail counterparts.


But the times they are a changin’. As consumer payment, ordering, and eating habits rapidly change, restaurants have begun to adopt new technologies in order to keep their customers coming back. This is particularly true in the Quick-Service Restaurant (QSR) space.


The average QSR now faces more competition than ever. Millennials and the newest spenders, Gen Zers, are moving away from big fast-food chains, and the result is an influx in new, ambitious independent restaurants popping up in response to demand. And with competition heating up, QSRs are moving quickly to combat razor thin margins by finding new ways to differentiate themselves and improve the customer experience.


With the goal of helping restaurants succeed, our Product Development team set out to build something that would help QSRs increase sales, reduce labor costs, and take more orders faster.


The result? TouchBistro Kiosk – our first foray into self-ordering and an app designed specifically to help quick-service restaurants increase average guest check size.



So Why Did We Build It?

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen mPOS, mobile payment devices, loyalty, delivery, and order ahead apps take over QSR countertops. And while order ahead and delivery apps deliver on their promise of increasing sales, they also deliver a significant blow to your bottom line (eating up as much as 18 percent of the order’s gross value).


When we began talking with our thousands of QSR customers, we heard the same story: “I need help increasing my sales, but I’m not willing to give up that much margin.”


Online ordering and order ahead has become a necessity for them to compete in the market. And while the apps are often necessary for bringing new customers in and incentivizing repeat business, they’re eating their margins.


So, we set out to build something that delivered the same promise of increased revenues but without any of the margin hit necessary to realize such a lift.


And What Did We Learn?

We’ve been working on Kiosk for some time now, and from the initial concept through to early field testing and now launch, we learned a ton about the benefits, and challenges, that come with incorporating self-ordering tech in a counter-service restaurant.


Here are the top lessons we’d like to share as you consider starting down the road towards self-ordering.



Lesson #1: Don’t Expect to Magically Save on Labor

With rising labor costs, many restaurants are looking to technology to help mitigate the hit to their bottom line, and self ordering can seem like a sure bet.


But to truly make your QSR successful, you need to consider the impact of self-ordering on your entire operation.


Imagine seeing a 2x increase in your average guest check size overnight, and tripling the amount of orders coming through at once. Sounds awesome, right? That’s what our first customer, Lea French Street Food, experienced when they went live with two TouchBistro Kiosk stations.


However, be aware of the implications. Your kitchen is set up to handle one or two orders at once (depending on how many cashier stations you have). With each Kiosk you add, you’re doubling that throughput, which’ll have a huge effect on how you staff your kitchen and plan your purchase orders.


Improving the customer experience with a seamless order, pay and pickup experience is great – but that gets forgotten when orders take 3x longer or items get 86’d as your inventory isn’t stocked for the demand.


In order to be successful with Kiosk, most restaurants are going to need to actually add staff to the back of house to deal with the increased order throughput. And even when your staff adapts, you’ll want counter staff for when a patron needs help with the Kiosk or even for those who refuse to use it — and believe us, there will be some!



Lesson #2: Self Ordering Isn’t Just for Millennials, But It Ain’t for Everyone

Indeed, not every one of your customers will be gung ho to use your new fancy ordering system. That’s a lesson we learned first hand in Chicago with Lea French Street Food.


During the first two months of going live, we saw thousands of folks from different walks of life use the device, and while for the most part there were no issues, there were a few instances where customers simply wouldn’t use the device.


In fact, a recent study by AMEX shows that while 26% of restaurants are exploring self-ordering, a whopping 75% of consumers said they favor a restaurant with traditional wait staff who can provide in-person service.


So while restaurants should definitely consider their target customer base when deciding how to augment service with technology, remember that technology is meant to enhance the human customer service experience—not eliminate it. That’s one of the reasons why TouchBistro Kiosk is designed to work alongside TouchBistro. The POS isn’t going anywhere. And though self-ordering is the way of the future, the experience should be simple and intuitive enough for anyone to use — whether they’re 9 or 90.



Lesson #3: Ordering Should be Easy, Smart, and Complete

Placing and order should be intuitive. That’s precisely why we spent so much time refining the user experience and user interface of TouchBistro Kiosk.


We started this process internally. As we work long hours helping restaurants succeed, we have an internal cafe of sorts which our employees can visit on Fridays to grab a drink and a snack. For over a month, we tested and improved on Kiosk internally in our cafe before we took it to a customer.


Once we were satisfied with the early results, we took Kiosk into real restaurants. We watched carefully as thousands of  customers used Kiosk, noting where they got stuck and watching people of all ages use the app. We continued to make improvements over the last few months to get to the easy, smart, and complete workflow you see in the product today.



Lesson #4: Your Venue’s Physical Design Matters More than the App’s

Of course, the app experience is only part of the equation: we also learned how important the experience of the restaurant was. In fact, where the Kiosks are placed in the restaurant is even more important than the interface of the app itself.


The physical layout of the restaurant is super important for success. Putting the Kiosk in an obvious spot at the front of the restaurant will naturally guide customers to order there.


Take the time to work through where you are physically putting this device into your venue and think of how customers will flow through your venue: from walking in, to ordering, to paying and picking up their food.




Lesson #5: Your Menu Matters More Than Anything

Say you get the workflow right, the staff mix right, and you have the perfect tool for your counter-service operation with TouchBistro Kiosk. It’s a guaranteed home run, right? Instant 2x increase in sales, right?


Almost. There’s one final piece to the puzzle, and it’s the most important: your menu. Self-ordering’s ability to generate more sales can of course come from simply adding more Kiosks to allow you to take more orders faster. But the true magic comes from having a menu designed for upsells.


Kiosks rule at upselling for a few reasons. Like online ordering and order ahead apps, Kiosk provides an intuitive user interface that makes it extremely easy for the customer to modify each item in an order. This allows customers to easily add cheese, avocado, extra meat or sides, at an extra cost. On top of that, great food photography and menu merchandising entices hungry customers to add on to their order.


But if you haven’t engineered priced mods and upgrades into your menu, and you haven’t taken the time to beautify your items effectively, you’re simply not going to see the same lift that customers like Lea French Street Food have.



The Result

Since going live in May, TouchBistro Kiosk has processed thousands of orders at Lea, and was responsible for almost 80 percent of total revenue — with priced mod purchases increasing by as much as 10x and revenue increasing as high as 2x compared to purchases on the traditional POS working in tandem.



See for yourself: take a look at the TouchBistro Kiosk live in action!





The Moral of the Story?

Self ordering is all the rage right now, but only big chains have really had any success with it so far. It can be hard for independent restaurants to do self ordering right particularly with the costly and complex products previously rushed to market amidst the hype.


That's why TouchBistro has taken the time required to bring such a TouchBistro Kiosk to market. We’ve done so deliberately, as we've learned the hard lessons at our cost so you don't have to.


We’re invested in your success as a restaurateur, and we believe TouchBistro Kiosk is an amazing tool that will help you build a successful counter-service restaurant.



Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more updates from our Product Development team. Oh, and if you’re a QSR, and you’re ready to talk to us about how TouchBistro Kiosk can help your restaurant succeed, don’t be shy.




About the Author

Frank Caron

Frank is the Director of Product Marketing at TouchBistro. He leads up our team of product evangelists who live to tell tales of TouchBistro's tools, which are helping to build successful restaurants. When he's not advocating for restaurant success, he's writing about life, business, and technology.

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