Digital Connectivity Drives Self-Service Success

November 10, 2020

Operators are adopting technologies and service styles that meet the moment.

Self-serve kiosks will likely play a key role in the future of self-service in the restaurant industry, despite a slowdown in their deployment during the pandemic. Observers cite strong growth in kiosk use heading into 2020, as operators have embraced the efficiencies they provide.

In the near term, however, concerns about the use of shared hardware have instead encouraged greater adoption of self-service via smartphones. According to Gary Stibel, founder and CEO of the New England Consulting Group, this has long been a goal of many restaurant operators anyway.

“This is an opportunity for the smart money to get ahead of the curve and capitalize on behavior that’s being forced by circumstances beyond consumers’ control,” he explains. That way, “when it’s no longer forced, [operators will] continue to benefit from that behavior change.”

Craig Allen Keefner, manager of the Kiosk Manufacturer Association, estimates that orders placed by quick-service and fast-casual restaurants for new freestanding, in-store kiosks will be down about 30% year over year in 2020.

“There is a lot of talk that tells me there is serious pent-up demand, though,” he says. “I think we’ll see an explosion of various kiosks as people start to reopen and look for a way to keep their costs in check.”

Mobile Proxies Mimic Kiosks

Some operators have adapted to the new digitally focused, touchless customer experience by creating what Keefner calls “mobile proxies.” These mobile technologies mimic a kiosk’s appearance on a smartphone screen, allowing customers to largely serve themselves without having to touch a physical, self-serve kiosk.

Newk’s Eatery, for example, had been planning to install traditional kiosks in its cafes when the pandemic forced the chain to close its dining rooms. Instead, Newk’s introduced a “hardwareless kiosk.” When customers use their phone to scan a QR code that’s displayed on a placard near the restaurant’s entrance, an app appears that allows them to order and make a contactless payment without interacting with a restaurant employee.

“It's through the same kiosk software we would have been using, just optimized for personal devices rather than a large, 21-inch screen kiosk,” Vice President of Information Technology Adam Karveller, explained to Kiosk Marketplace. “Folks just don't want to touch community hardware right now.”

Depending on how it’s received by consumers, the hardwareless kiosk could ultimately supplant the traditional physical kiosks Newk’s was planning to deploy in its stores, he adds.

Life in the Drive-Thru Lane

In-store self-serve kiosks may be unappealing to many right now, but drive-thru kiosks are thriving, Keefner says.

Taco Bell recently unveiled a new store design that features a smaller dining room and a second drive-thru window. According to a company statement, the “Taco Bell Go Mobile” concept “is specifically designed [to allow] guests to order ahead through the brand’s mobile app and enjoy the Taco Bell experience in a frictionless way.”

Earlier this year, Chipotle Mexican Grill began accelerating the rollout of “Chipotlanes,” a drive-thru concept that minimizes interaction between customers and employees. The lanes are expected to be included in 60% of all new locations, the company says.

Both drive-thru initiatives are designed to maximize customers’ ability to order ahead through the chain’s mobile apps. But as the Newk’s deployment has shown, contactless payments and ordering can also be achieved without an app.

Operators are also using geolocation technology to better serve customers. Operators can be notified when a customer approaches a restaurant and prepare the order for curbside delivery or pickup — or they can communicate to the customer when the order will be ready.

Direct Communication Is Key

Stibel believes this increased use of digital technologies makes it easier for operators to communicate directly with customers and compensate for their guests’ minimized interaction with staff. Operators also can use these tools to enhance how they do business, including how they market and sell and how they gather customer feedback. Once a customer has established a digital connection with a restaurant, a chef could reach out through an app or text message and ask, for example, how the guest enjoyed a recent meal.

Such hyper-personalization — and segmentation at the store and market levels — will soon become industry standards, Stibel says. But it will require operators to be agile as new methods for serving customers emerge.

“Agility doesn't mean taking two or three months to develop a plan,” he explains. “Agility means acting now and learning from your mistakes — and continuing to adapt and get ahead of the curve.”

Mondelēz International Foodservice offers insights and expertise that can help your operation thrive in these challenging times. From new menu ideas to advice on adapting to off-premises consumption to leveraging mobile apps for digital ordering, Mondelēz has actionable tools your business can use to stay ahead of the competition.

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