While QSRs played a big role in popularizing ordering at outdoor drive-thru kiosks, the big change taking place today in this sector is the growth in indoor self-serve kiosks.
More than half of today's QSR consumers, 55 percent, have used a tablet at the table or a smartphone app over the past 90 days, marking a 39 percent jump from 2015, according to a consumer study conducted by Market Force Information, a research firm. More than 11,000 consumers were polled for the study, which revealed consumers' QSR dining habits, brand preferences and in-restaurant technology use.
Just under half of consumers said they prefer to order the old-fashioned way from someone at the counter, a more than 20 percent decrease from the 70 percent who reported that they prefer to do so in 2015.
"We are seeing strong year-over-year trends indicating that the adoption of consumer technology in the QSR industry is increasing dramatically," said Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force Information. "Recent announcements of QSRs rolling out more kiosks, apps and delivery services should accelerate that adoption even further and have a huge impact on the future of dining out."
The pace of acceleration is likely to increase with several national chains announcing self-serve kiosks in the last year.
"QSRs are showing tremendous interest in indoor self-ordering kiosks," said David Anzia, senior vice president of sales at Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc. "National QSR chains are engaged in large-scale tests. The speed to market is accelerating in 2017."
McDonald's leads the way
McDonald's, the QSR leader, is switching to self-serve order stations and table delivery for all U.S. in-restaurant dining, and will soon roll out a new mobile order and pay system for the drive-thru.
McDonald's piloted its in-store system at 500 revamped U.S. restaurants in New York, Florida and Southern California over the course of about 44,000 orders in the last year. As a result, the new "justforyou experience" will now put vertical tabletop ordering touchscreens at tables, all but eliminating the order counter.
Wendy's, not to be outdone, will have kiosks in more than 1,000 North American restaurants in 2017, Chief Information Officer David Trimm stated at the company's recent investor day. More than half of the restaurants in North America will also have mobile ordering.
Kiosks, along with apps and the web, will bring Wendy's digital story to life, according to a company investor presentation.
"Kiosks give us the opportunity to innovate," the presentation stated. "Customers love them and so do we." Kiosks are preferred by many customers and unlock kitchen capacity. They are also a gateway to mobile.
Consumers drive change
"QSRs see consumers changing the way they purchase all items," Anzia of Frank Mayer and Associates said. "Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with large and small touchscreens in making transactions."
Research conducted by Tillster, a restaurant technology provider, shows technology is actually important across a wide range of age groups, not just millennials.
While millennials were more likely than older consumers to visit a restaurant if self-serve kiosks and online ordering are offered, more than half of older consumers would still visit more often if these benefits were offered.
One of the key conveniences to consumers and QSRs alike is being able to pay when placing the order.
"This is an integral part of the kiosk and the ordering process," Anzia said.
Order customization is also important to today's QSR consumers. Anzia said this can be done through software specialization.
While cashless and mobile pay is all the rage today, some customers still prefer to pay with cash. QSRs can't ignore this market, according to Anzia.
"Our kiosks can accept cash and dispense change," he said. "This function adds cost to the kiosks for the additional hardware to accept and dispense cash. The kiosk would also need to be serviced more often to make certain cash is removed in a timely manner and that it is always operational to dispense the paper and coins."
How QSRs benefit
"The restaurants can employ fewer people taking the orders and shift that personnel to processing and preparing the orders," Anzia said. "Speed is the driving force to drive success."
"You will likely have a higher average check," said Hope Neiman, chief marketing officer at Tillster. "The kiosk always asks the upsell questions, and factor that 15-25 percent improvement you will see."
"Consider your real cost of labor—not only is it a savings, but you eliminate the churn of those order taking crew members," Neiman added. "And you eliminate the difficulty in hiring that we are hearing about in many markets."
"You may also be saving the cost of a POS terminal or two, so those monthly costs should be included," Neiman said.
QSRs that are contemplating self-serve kiosks need to make sure the solution integrates with the point-of-sale software.
"It's imperative," Anzia said. "It's all about the speed for the ordering and the customer's ability to perform the transaction from start to finish."
QSRs also need to make sure their employees are on board with the system, according Tillster's Neiman.
"Many times they (employees) will be concerned and unplug or derail the program," Neiman said. "Make certain they know they are important. This is not about replacing them but about putting them in higher value tasks, in what should be a financially healthier business."
"Don't forget to find ways to add ‘warmth' to your guest experience," Neiman added. "Use a greeter at the busiest times, be there to help guests using a kiosks for the first time, use the added time to check the dining area—guests appreciate the accuracy and improvements in self service, and will notice the extra touch you are supplying."
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Companies: Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc.