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Restaurants Lean on Digital Ordering Systems to Push Through the Pandemic

Self-service kiosks and mobile ordering apps are helping restaurants stay in business during a pandemic that threatens their traditional operations. IoT technologies have enabled QSRs to be leaner and more efficient, while protecting the health and safety of their customers and staff.

Image credit: Kiosk Manufacturer Industry Association

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are looking for ways to improve customer service and decrease labor costs, and self-service kiosks are proving to be a big part of the solution.

The use of kiosks in QSRs was expected to be very common in two to five years, but the pandemic has fast-tracked their adoption as restaurants try to stay afloat while adhering to lockdown guidelines. Sam Zietz, CEO of kiosk developer Grubbrr, has said his company is seeing a significant uptick in kiosk requests from quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants, including large chain restaurants that want to install kiosks in multiple locations. Tablets are also being used for self-service orders.

Consumer Safety and Control

With new social distancing regulations in place and the fear of person-to-person contact, many QSRs are using self-service kiosks to create pop-up or synthetic drive-through for contactless ordering and payment. The Habit Burger Grill, a 50-year-old chain based in Irvine, CA, relocated its Olea kiosks and its tablets outside many of its restaurants to create pop-up drive-through lanes and park-and-order spots. Customers can easily and safely place and pay for an order without interacting with restaurant employees. The Habit also is placing antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers near its kiosks for customer use, another effort aimed at reducing the possible spread of COVID-19.

Image credit: BHW Group

Having self-service capabilities allows restaurants to continue to operate with less overhead, which is critical as many restaurants have reduced shifts or furloughed employees during the pandemic.

In addition to decreased labor costs, self-service kiosks have led to increased profits and improved customer experience. The kiosks are customizable, so restaurants can upsell profitable items, and its working. One industry study found that consumer orders increase 21 percent when using a kiosk, an increase of at least $5 per transaction.

A Push to Online Ordering

Many QSRs have adapted their mobile apps and websites to reflect modified menus and new delivery and contactless pick-up options. The Habit’s mobile app, developed by The BHW Group, allows customers to customize, place, and pay for their orders like they would on The Habit’s tablets or kiosks. Now, customers can choose the newly added option for curb side pick-up in addition to delivery. Other QSRs owned by Yum! Brands also have adapted their mobile apps to offer curb side pick-up, contactless delivery, and delivery through GrubHub. That’s especially important now, even as consumers are sheltering in place, as 76 percent said they order restaurant food delivery online.

Mobile apps use location technology for delivery purposes, but they can also influence customer decisions about ordering; these apps are created to maximize up-selling and cross-selling. They encourage add-ons and bonuses to increase sales and gain attention through rewards programs. For example, Taco Bell is giving away a free Doritos Locos Taco on specific days to drive-thru and online-order customers to attract business.

Restaurants have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they can push specialty items, such as family bundles, directly to the consumers. The Habit Burger Grill is offering a family bundle at a discounted price online and through its app, and it is also promoting Takeout Tuesday, a national push to help restaurants during the pandemic.

The pandemic has shown that kiosks improve efficiencies in QSRs and can help generate additional revenue. One lasting result of the new systems will be QSR reliance on contactless digital systems that are both efficient and safe.


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