Restaurant kiosks offer some startling advantages for the restaurant industry that managers might not expect. Personal service and rapport remain important for many customers, but diners from at least the last two generations often prefer using technology to confirm details of their orders.

People routinely check-in at automated kiosks for shopping checkouts, transportation tickets and checking-in at government agencies, so using kiosks in the food industry doesn’t shock or disconcert most customers. Restaurateurs can always make using kiosks an option and offer focused assistance from smiling and knowledgeable staff. Even fast food and fast casual restaurants receive many benefits from adding a low-cost outlet where people can place carryout orders, make reservations, redeem or sign-up for loyalty rewards and get news and nutrition facts.

Pros and Cons of Restaurant Kiosks

Restaurateurs can use smartphone tablets for impromptu kiosk ordering, but designing a touchscreen system offers advantages. It doesn’t take much time or money to customize an order-taking app for a restaurant, and the benefits of doing so include:

  • Improving order accuracy with focused touchscreens
  • Ordering that goes straight to the kitchen in its proper form based on interface design
  • Saving money on staff during peak and nonpeak hours
  • Providing alternative ordering stations to accommodate more customers
  • Giving customers something to do while waiting for seats
  • Providing better security for paying with credit cards
  • Taking reservations and providing information on catering, nutrition and food suppliers
  • Generating alternative income steams from merchandise and other restaurant services
  • Using wait time to preorder meals for delivery a few minutes after seating to speed table turnover

Making kiosks a part of a restaurant’s concept delivers many operational, efficiency and marketing benefits if done correctly, but the strategy does have some drawbacks to consider:

  • Installation, training and promoting the technology take time and money.
  • Some diners hate self-service.
  • Kiosks require maintenance and supervision.
  • Vandalism is always possible at both on-site and off-site kiosks.
  • Generic software might not be applicable or user-friendly, and custom software costs money.
  • Customers can become frustrated when kiosks don’t work properly—just ask any self-service grocery shopper who has to wait for an attendant.
  • Some servers might feel that they get shortchanged on tips when diners use self-service ordering.

Choosing Staffed or Self-service Kiosks

Restaurants can use staffed or self-service kiosks for multiple purposes, and modern technology allows restaurateurs to use iPads or tablets for mobile and tableside ordering. Choosing the right kiosk strategy depends on the restaurant’s cuisine, customers, and reasons for using the technology.

Staffed Kiosks

Restaurateurs can use staffed kiosk stations to sell merchandise and prepackaged foods, take carryout orders and provide information and concierge services. A staffed kiosk is great for introducing the technology and showing customers how to use the system. Staffed kiosks deliver the benefits of technology to all customers without the drawbacks of impersonal service.

The Self-service Option

Touchscreens simplify ordering so that customers can order from the waiting area for faster service. Diners can place carryout orders without an attendant. Restaurants can make kiosks optional to speed service during peak hours or satisfy those diners who prefer to order at an independent station.

Tableside Tablets

Tableside ordering from tablets offers the advantages of kiosks, but servers still interact with customers and manage each guest’s experience. Restaurants don’t sacrifice personal service, and tablets can entertain guests with news and interactive games while diners wait for their orders.

Adding Remote Marketing and Sales Locations

Kiosks are an ideal way to extend the restaurant’s presence to a nearby office building, shopping mall, transportation center or hospitality destination. Kiosks can be informational or functional and staffed or unstaffed. The plummeting costs of touchscreen and communications technology make adding off-site kiosks affordable and cost-effective. Restaurants can place kiosks in their lobbies, patio areas or sidewalks in front of the business to attract passersby.

Kiosks are becoming increasingly affordable due to explosive increases in smartphone technology, smartscreen manufacturers and the competitive market for automated processes. Management can decide the details about whether to staff kiosks or provide self-service options or whether using a kiosk is optional or mandatory. Extremely popular in Europe and Asia, kiosks will continue to gain acceptance in the United States.

New restaurants benefit by installing kiosk technology at the beginning of operations because the business plan and capitalization strategy can be worked seamlessly into the restaurant’s concept and design. Guests buy more when they can take their time and order leisurely without impatient servers waiting for their orders. Restaurateurs can speed service during peak hours, market their products and services at remote locations and provide valuable information during slow periods by using kiosks.