Order and Out


Your guests may be ready for self-service, but are you? According to Self-Service Takes Off, the Hospitality Industry Self-Service Technology Study (the study can be accessed and downloaded at htmagazine.com), consumers interest in self-service options at quick-service restaurants is growing, even as interest lags among restaurateurs.

In a telephone survey of 1,125 consumers, 38 percent answered that they were more likely to go to a quick-service restaurant if it offered self-service. In fact, consumers proved equally interested in self-service in hotels and restaurants, yet only hotels have made a concerted effort to adopt the technology.

It should come as little surprise that consumers are ready to help themselves. Restaurant and foodservice, in fact, remain one of the few industries without wide-spread self-service options. Beginning decades ago with the banking industry's ATMs, consumers increasingly are recognizing self-service as better service. The adoption of self-service in airports, retail and now even lodging settings are helping businesses eliminate chronic customer dissatisfaction related to long lines. Moreover, as consumers confront self-service in more and more settings, the long-held concern over training guests to use a new technology is becoming virtually irrelevant.

That consumers also see a fit for foodservice should be seen as extremely promising for a technology application that is at the start of the adoption curve. After all, despite the consumer interest, few restaurants now offer the technology.

Of the restaurant operator respondents to the self-service study, just two planned deployment within a year, but six out of sixteen planned it within two years--to be deployed at over 2,200 locations. Self-service it seems has the potential to explode onto the QSR landscape. With that explosive potential in mind, it is worthwhile to find out a little bit more from restaurant operators who have already taken the plunge.

Order and pay
"Our kiosks always out produce the front counter results. They're a convenience for the customer and for us, giving faster and better service for all sides," explains McDonald's franchisee Gary Moulton. He has installed order and pay kiosks in all six of his central Florida restaurants."In 2001, we opened a new restaurant and wanted a new technology piece," Moulton recalls. "We installed two freestanding kiosks in the new location and three in an older, bigger location, which took orders and accepted credit/debit payments. They were our introduction into the cashless field."

Moulton uses NCR Xpress Order and Pay units (ncr.com) with InfoAmerica (infoamerica.com) software. Importantly, the McDonald's franchise uses permanent coordinators to work with the kiosks and help customers place orders.

Moulton's franchise had such great success with the initial self-service kiosk that he immediately ordered more for his four other restaurants. He now has installed between two and three kiosks at each of his restaurants, depending upon the restaurant's size, volume, and lay out. "We know the customer loves them, and if an affordable model is handling cash, we'll go there," he adds.

"It's a great touch point to interact a little more with the customer," Moulton insists. "Now they're standing in line for the kiosk, not the counter. They love having ownership of the order. It's quick, easy and eliminates errors. I prefer them as a customer, too. We're on the move most of the time."
According to Moulton, one essential element for the kiosks is close integration with key restaurant systems: point of sale and back office. Orders from the self-service terminals are routed to the kitchen just like any other POS order.

One of the biggest advantages, Moulton notes, is improved upselling for self-service orders. Moulton attributes this to the design and creativity of the systems. "We've definitely increased volume and velocity to the kitchen because of the kiosks, and staffing has also increased, with more people in the kitchen and fewer on the service side," he explains.

The improved volume has also helped speed up the timeframe for a return on the significant investment. According to Moulton, the ROI for his self-service terminals has come within 13-16 months.

Not willing to stand pat, Moulton's employees are now using hand-held PDAs for greater mobility and flexibility. The PDAs can be used in the restaurant to line-bust, or even at the drive thru in order to process orders more quickly during rush periods.

"We've learned through trial and error that self-service needs to be part of a system and be managed--and be as customer friendly as possible," advises Moulton. "It's not automatic. You don't open a box and plug it in."

The only thing Moulton would have done differently was implement the kiosks earlier. "I shudder at the thought of operating without them--they're such an integral part of our business."

As a multi-unit quick-service restaurant operator and franchisee, Moulton is constantly trying to find new and creative ways to use technology to better serve his customers. "In the future, [self-service] will grow and expand dramatically," he predicts. "I sit on the technology board for McDonald's and we're on the edge of the curve with concepts and solutions to learn and implement."

What a burger
Another twist on the kiosk concept is being implemented by a different Florida QSR franchisee. JWB Ventures operates 12 Whataburger restaurants in northeastern and central Florida with nine more opening by December 2005. Whataburger custom makes all burgers to order and JWB Ventures placed improved order accuracy at the top of its priority list.

JWB implemented Interactive Customer Displays, or ICDs, from Radiant Systems (radiantsystems.com) in front of each of its POS terminals to help improve accuracy. The freestanding 12-inch touch screens, however, do far more than a simple order confirmation screen.

In a touch that calls to mind lessons learned by airlines, repeat customers log-in with a simple swipe of their credit card to recall their last four orders onscreen. Of course, that swipe can also serve as payment, and the order is delivered to their table. Of course, customers can also create a new custom order using the touch screen interface.

"The cashiers love it," explains Bud Shaw, vice president of JWB Ventures. "We tested a kiosk back in 1990-1991, and older Americans wouldn't touch it--they thought it would shock them." JWB installed the first interactive terminal in November 2004 and plans to slowly roll out more. The next phase will be to install self-service for the drive-thru.

By 2010, notes Shaw, the average age of the United States population will be 50, "We're already getting a more computer literate customer today. They take right to it, especially the younger ones," he continues.

One of the biggest benefits of ICRs has been the push toward use of credit cards. According to Shaw his Whataburger credit-card transactions are almost twice as high as cash transactions. Just as importantly, when guests swipe their credit-card at the terminals, it speeds the time it takes to make an order.

"We'll need the ROI numbers to work for the drive-thru," Shaw admits. "We can't look at ten years--it won't work that long. It will need to keep working." He predicts the next step for this technology will include QSR food ordering via cell phone.

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