Independent fast casual wades into self-serve kiosks, Part 1
Photo courtesy of Flatbread Grill.
Flatbread Grill, an independent fast casual restaurant featuring Mediterranean food in Hoboken, New Jersey, has experienced the benefits along with the challenges of providing self-order kiosks as a customer convenience.
The restaurant, launched by three sisters — Fusun, Arzu, and Gonca Esendemir — was ahead of the curve with self-order kiosks, particularly for an independent restaurant with only one unit, having installed two kiosks in 2015.
Half of the restaurants' orders are now placed through the kiosks.
The sisters spent close to $30,000 for two kiosks, five thermal printers, an order management system and a POS system. They also pay a $6,000 annual maintenance fee. While the kiosks weren't cheap, they have been an efficient way for customers to access the menu and nutrition information, said Gonca Esendemir, co-founder and chief marketing officer. They've also helped to provide better accuracy, allow non-English speaking customers to order more easily, and to give customers the power to customize everything from how they want their food to how they order and pay, Esendemir said.
Say it in pictures
A lot of customers didn't want to read the menu or the menu board, Esendemir said, reflecting on her early experience with the restaurant before adding the kiosks.
"Oftentimes, customers would ask to see pictures of the food or ask the server to explain the ingredients," she said. "We would always say to ourselves, 'Maybe if we had something that they could just punch that shows them pictures or tells them what's in everything, then we wouldn't spend five minutes with every customer.'"
She was right; the kiosks have helped explain menu items to the customers.
Empowering the customer
Giving the customer more control was another benefit of kiosks, said Esendemir, who wanted customers to take more responsibility for their orders.
"It (the kiosk) reduces the customer error and the cashier error," she said.
Fast times at the kiosk
Regular customers love the kiosk's repeat order option because it allows them to get their "usual" orders in under three minutes.
"That's really golden; you can't put a price tag on that experience," Esendemir said. "If you get really good food at a good price point really quickly, your customer retention is going to be high. We keep all of our order times under four minutes."
The kiosks now reduce the friction with customers, but when they were new, many customers were reluctant to use them. It didn't take long for the customers to get used to them, however, after the staff put up signage instructing them to order from the kiosk and walked them through the process. Even today, Esendemir said, there is still a little bit of a learning curve for the customer, but kitchen staff always greet them and offers to help them use the kiosk if necessary.
"Once they realized the kiosks will take their order information, they adapted to it," Esendemir said. Even some customers who don't speak English have been able to use the kiosks.
Customers choose their own path
In addition to taking orders, the kiosks allow customers to pay using a credit card, gift card or cash. Those who pay using cash have to go to the POS counter.
Despite automating much of the operations process, the restaurant has not let go of any employees.
"It doesn't really affect our staffing at all," Esendemir said. "My cashiers became kitchen staff."
She even believes they've helped to increase employee productivity.
"The kiosks just freed everybody up," Esendemir said.
It's been two years since Esendemir first rolled out the kiosks, and although she's found them to be beneficial, she sees room for improvement.
She wishes the machines allowed for more customization and could make menu updates more quickly. She'd also like to be able to integrate third-party apps more easily.
Part two of this two-part series will explore the challenges Flatbread Grill has encountered, such as updating the menu in a timely manner and integrating third-party ordering apps.
Companies: NEXTEP SYSTEMS
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.