Independent restaurateur juggles highs, lows of adding self-order kiosks (Part 2)
For Flatbread Grill, introducing self-order kiosks has brought its share of challenges.
As noted in part one of this two-part series, the kiosks are popular with customers at the New Jersey restaurant and have also made operations more efficient. Although half of the restaurant's orders now come from self-order kiosks, Gonca Esendemir, co-founder and chief marketing officer, has endured a few frustrations when it came to updating her menu in a timely manner and integrating third-party ordering apps.
Improving the kiosk experience
Because it just has a single location, Flatbread Grill can be called an early adopter of kiosks, having installed a pair of self-order units in 2015.
"At the time we were looking at self-ordering, there weren't too many people (vendors) that were doing it at an affordable price point," Esendemir said.
She ended up partnering with kiosk provider Nextep Systems because it offered a POS system in addition to kiosks. Her initial research indicated that the system was affordable for a restaurant brand with only one location.
Esendemir's package included two kiosks, five thermal printers, an order management screen and a POS system. Her investment was close to $30,000.
She also pays an annual maintenance fee of more than $6,000, which she doesn't think is fair based on the customer support she has received. She acknowledged, however, that the vendor provides a software update every three or four months.
The annual fee, however, covers support for 365 days a year, a software defect repair system that fixes 99 percent of any problems within 24-to-48 hours, automatic application of software patches and automatic upgrades to new releases, said Brian Machiniak, customer care account manager at Nextep Systems. The fee also covers minor menu changes, including adding or removing items, price changes, image updates and hardware repairs. Should a unit fail, a replacement is shipped the next day if needed.
Although Esendemir said the kiosks have helped to reduce customer wait times, provide better accuracy, allow non-English speaking customers to order more easily and give customers the power to customize everything, she wants faster menu updates, more help with integrating third-party apps and a more timely response from customer support.
For example, she said she gave Nextep almost three months' notice about menu updates she wanted, but those weren't completed as quickly as expected.
According to Machiniak, Esendemir's complaint about menu updates isn't as simple as she makes it sound.
"The menu changes that took three months were actually made over the three months until they fit what Gonca was looking for specifically," he said. "It's not a one- or two-hour thing and it does require a lot of communication back and forth."
He said Esendemir usually sends a PDF file of a static menu every three to six months.
"One of the complications that occurs because of this is that it leaves the ordering process open to interpretation," Machiniak said. "The support team member that builds the new menus may believe that it needs to go a certain way, but Gonca may have a different idea. This has been the issue in the past."
Esendemir also told Kiosk Marketplace that integrating third-party order apps has been difficult, but Nextep's Machiniak said Esendemir may have been confused about how third-party apps work with the system.
"Gonca believed that Nextep Systems would need to integrate to these third-party apps, but it is actually the opposite," Machiniak said. "Since these apps would be submitting orders to Nextep, they would need to connect to our API."
He said it can be difficult to for some restaurant managers to understand who submits orders to whom.
Machiniak also pointed out that Nextep recently assisted Flatbread Grill in adding an icon to the kiosk for a payment app called DuckBill from a local university — at no charge.
Esendemir said she was pleased by the Nextep's integration of the DuckBill app, but not happy that it took a few months to install.
Esendemir also requested Nextep to add a "phone-in" option to the order type so she could track phone orders in the system's reporting section. She assumed it was a quick process, but said it also took several months.
Machiniak said this component wasn't added to the system until earlier this year because no other customers had asked for it.
Esendemir is in the process of speaking with other technology providers, but she has not yet decided if she will make a change.
Had she been able to do it all over again, she said she would have asked more questions about what happens on the back end. She also would have spoken to some existing users before taking the plunge.
"I wouldn't have been seduced by the technology of it," she said. "That's really what blinds you."
Although Esendemir has faced a few setbacks with her kiosks, Geoff Alexander had a different experience with Nextep Systems.
The president of the fast casual chain, Wow Bao, is an even earlier adopter than Esendemir, deploying kiosks in 2009, inside his restaurants.
"They've been a tremendous benefit and an integral part of our business," said Alexander, who is also executive vice president of Lettuce Entertain You, parent company of Wow Bao and 90 restaurants. "The team at Nextep has been nothing but supportive."
Avoiding deployment issues
Machiniak recommended restaurants interested in deploying self-order kiosks ask the following questions of technology providers.
1. What kind of reporting does the solution provide?
"You need all touchpoints of your point-of-sale system to track the vital data that helps you understand your business' performance," Machiniak said. "Not only that – you need reporting capabilities that scale with your business as it grows."
2. What are the payment processing options, and how will the self-order solution help protect against security risks? Does the kiosk provider offer encrypted/tokenized payment? Are they PA-DSS compliant?
3. What happens in the case of an internet outage?
4. Are the kiosks ADA compliant?
5. How can the self-ordering solution provider make sure the kiosks showcase the brand and match the look and feel of the stores, the website and online/mobile ordering?
"Customers and employees both have a stake in restaurant technologies working seamlessly," Machiniak said. "It's critical to get your whole team on board."
Cover photo: iStock
Companies: NEXTEP SYSTEMS
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.