Whether it’s a fine-dining establishment in Manhattan, a mom-and-pop diner in California or a chain eatery in the Midwest, one of the most commonly shared restaurant industry goals is to provide customers exactly what they order — even when it involves the sort of elaborate customization that Meg Ryan made famous in When Harry Met Sally. While cooking up and serving dishes that hold the anchovies or provide an extra dollop of sour cream is a cherished and laudable goal, it is also an elusive one.
“The dirty little secret in the food industry is one in seven orders is wrong,” a restaurant industry CEO told BusinessWeek in an interview last year. Statistics like that are what’s driving many of the biggest fast-casual restaurant chains to start experimenting with self-service kiosks, where patrons can place their own orders.
What’s fueling the trend?
But these restaurants — which spend tens of millions on the new technology — aren’t alone in their embrace of self-service kiosks. Fast food giants have announced their intention to begin installing self-serve ordering options in their restaurants. And two other chains have begun outfitting tables with tablets that allow diners could input their own menu selections.
So what’s driving this move towards technology-enabled self-service ordering? No doubt, plenty of restaurant owners see it as a way to boost customer loyalty. Patrons who receive exactly the menu item they desire exactly the way they desire it will certainly be happier. And the automation of ordering that is enabled by kiosks can also speed or eliminate lines, meaning that there’s a reduced risk that potential customers will walk into a restaurant and then turn right around when they see a mob near the cashiers. Even those who aren’t daunted by a crowd will be pleased because the advent of ordering technology will likely mean that their orders come to the table quicker.
A side order of efficiency
It’s not just restaurant customers who see the benefits of self-service kiosks. Restaurant owners, too, can benefit from the increased efficiency that results from greater automation. An automated ordering kiosk reduces the need for at least some waiters or cashiers to take and relay orders to the kitchen.
And when restaurants pair self-service kiosks with technology like LRS’s Table Tracker, they can make the customer experience even more pleasant. Not only can patrons order at a kiosk, they can now take a handheld tracker with them when they find a table. By doing so, their orders automatically are delivered to their table, eliminating the need to wait in lines altogether and removing the time that would otherwise be spent by wait staff going back and forth to tables.
As it has in so many other industries, technology is reshaping what’s possible for restaurants and diners. The only real question is what will happen next.
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Skip Cass is the chief executive officer at LRS and an expert in operational efficiency and creating a memorable guest experience.