11 / 11 / 2017 by IDW

It’s no secret that millennials love technology. As automation continues to take hold of increasingly diverse industries, the food service industry is also attempting to incorporate greater levels of automation into their service model in order to increase appeal with millennial customers. Many companies, such as McDonalds, Panera, and Starbucks, have begun to use kiosks through which consumers can place orders, moving away from human cashiers and driving firmly in the direction of a fast and efficient automated ordering process. In this article, we’ll discuss how this technology is changing the landscape of the fast-food and fast-casual dining experience, and explore some of the potentially positive and negative effects that this may have on the industry.

1. Ordering kiosks increase efficiency and accuracy.

One of the most appealing aspects of using a kiosk to place an order is the fact that eliminating the human element, the cashier, increases both the efficiency and accuracy of the ordering process. With this technology, consumers have greater control over what they order, resulting in more customizable orders that reflect their desires. Consumers are less likely to be inadvertently charged for extra items they didn’t order, and once an order is placed are more likely to receive exactly the product they specified. Additionally, ordering kiosks allow businesses to run more efficiently by saving them the labor costs of cashiers, while also allowing them to divert more labor to creating the end product for the consumer and delivering it in a timely fashion.

2. Kiosks reduce lines.

Rather than having to stand in line to order from one or two overworked cashiers, consumers can simply walk to a bank of multiple kiosks and place their order. This results in significantly shorter lines, reducing the time between when a consumer enters an establishment and when they get their order. This is particularly appealing to millennials and busy professionals, as they tend to have greater constraints on their time than some other demographics. Ordering kiosks allow a millennial or busy professional to quickly place and order and get their food, making the dining process much faster and accommodating shifting consumption patterns that prioritize speed and efficiency.

3. Kiosk ordering integrates well with mobile and online ordering.

Ordering from a kiosk in the store is an extension of the already prevalent trend towards robust online and mobile ordering platforms for many establishments. Kiosks allow stores to fully integrate this technology into their storefront, giving many different options for ordering depending on preference. This too appeals to millennial consumers, which appreciate flexibility and choice in their shopping experience.

4. Automation reduces human contact.

The one downside that affects some consumers is the lack of human contact when using a kiosk to order a beverage or food product(s). Technology such as kiosks, online ordering, or mobile app ordering, create a less personal dining experience which may not be ideal for everyone. For some, the lack of customer service interaction inherent in a technology based service model may be off-putting. On the other side of this argument, however, is the fact that despite there being less positive customer service interactions, there will also be less negative customer service experiences for consumers. For many, the reduced human contact may be a worthwhile tradeoff to a more consistent dining experience.

As the preceding examples illustrate, ordering kiosks come with both benefits and drawbacks. The benefits are significant for both the consumer and the service provider. Ordering kiosks are more accurate than their human counterparts, more consistent, less likely to have lines, and allow consumers greater freedom to customize their order. For businesses, automating functions such as the ordering process allows for significant labor savings, and gives the flexibility to redirect labor to other operational areas. This results in more efficient operations, and less time between when an order is placed and a product is received. As with anything, this technology comes with a tradeoff. In the case of fast-food and fast-casual dining, this tradeoff is a decreased level of human interaction. Many consumers become repeat customers after a positive customer service experience, so automated ordering may result in the loss of loyal customers at first. However, as consumers become adapted to using technology in the dining environment to expedite the process, they may very well come to expect the faster, more efficient, and more accurate dining experience that technology can offer.