Is the Tableside Kiosk Coming to Your Restaurant a Good or Bad Idea?
Technology has started to make its way into full service dining; it’s only a matter of time before the tableside kiosk becomes the norm in restaurants across the country.
It’s easy to focus on the possible negatives, but there is a lot of good all this technology can do for the industry. There are upsides and downsides to every big change like this one. Now is as good a time as any to consider them and their potential effect on your favorite restaurant.
The Bad News
Kiosks will most likely result in the end of in-person table service. There will always be those diners who want to interact with a server or who just want to take a break from technology over the course of their meal, but the majority will embrace the tableside kiosk with open arms.
Without the responsibility of a 90-second greet, a run of drinks to the table, the upsell of the day’s special foie gras, and all of the back-and-forth that each diner’s meal entails, servers’ roles will have to evolve.
Into what? Perhaps they’ll move into a completely new position.
Or perhaps the server role won’t completely go away and instead will morph into a sort of customer satisfaction guru. In the end, it will mean some restructuring and a lot of training to get the waitstaff up to speed on their new roles.
The Good News
The kiosk will most likely eliminate tipping since the bulk of the work will be done by the customer’s finger. For the waitstaff who relied on good tips at the end of each shift, they can now look forward to a steady salary regardless of how slow or busy the restaurant turns out to be. No more extra-long shifts while waiting to grab the bill and tip off of that last table of customers who won’t leave.
Another bonus for the waitstaff (and for you) comes in the form of a built-in upsell. All of the day’s specials and all of the items they would normally try to upsell on customers can be built right into the kiosk’s interface.
Rather than having the waitstaff try to bump up each customer’s bill with more expensive suggestions, the kiosk will take care of that by following around customers as they interact with the system, keeping a restaurant’s special features top-of-mind (kind of like how Google Re-marketing allows businesses to follow you around long after you’ve left their website).
The Bad News
With the power of ordering going into customer hands, things might get a little sticky in the kitchen. Some chef's get finicky when custom requests come through their line.
But kiosks aren’t just going to give customers the ability to start and end their meal. They’re going to give them the ability to create their orders when they want it and how they want it. This is going to mean more flexibility and understanding in the kitchen.
The Good News
Once chefs start to recognize the benefits of the ordering process going into the hands of customers, they’ll embrace the latest of these technological changes in the restaurant.
Giving customers the power to place their own orders will speed up the ordering process and the overall restaurant turnover, even if it takes a little extra time to put together each meal. Perhaps an à la carte menu (rather than dishes with a set feature and side) will be the solution and will turn out to be a more cost effective approach if the restaurant has more control over the menu.
On a related note, there is going to be one huge benefit to restaurants in going the way of the kiosk: a chameleonic menu. With no more paper menus floating around (and subsequent savings for the restaurant), chefs, bartenders, and managers can customize that menu as often as they’d like.
They can 86 items without having to worry about the message not getting around to all servers in time before they pitch it to a table. They can even run different specials depending on what time of day it is without having to take time to re-educate the waitstaff on what is running or print out a new set of specials sheets. The kiosk will give restaurants full control over their menu.
The Bad News
None really, except for those restaurant patrons who go out to eat for the full service, person-to-person experience.
The Good News
If demand—and a new generation of techno-savvy adults—prefer the flexibility and control of the kiosk, then that’s what they’re going to get. The customer is always right, and it would be great if the customer could always be happy, too. The restaurant kiosk will equip diners with a tool that allows them to:[ul] [li]Start their dining experience when they’re ready[/li] [li]Browse the menu at their leisure[/li] [li]Research menu items, get more detailed descriptions on what they’re eating, and filter their options based on ingredients[/li] [li]Customize their meal based on a number of available options that they (or their server) may not have been aware of[/li] [li]Place and close out their order[/li] [/ul] [clear]
The kiosk is all about control. Hand the reins over to the customers and restaurants will definitely see a drop in order errors. When the order has to go from the customer’s mouth to the server’s notepad (or memory) and then over to a computer, it’s like playing a game of Telephone. Cutting out the middleman will turn out to be a big win for all parties involved.
Giving your restaurant patrons a kiosk doesn’t just have to mean giving them access to ordering and paying, it can also be a form of entertainment. Give them T.V. shows to watch or games to play while they wait for their meals. Keep them engaged with your kiosk rather than hooked into each of their mobile phones.
Restaurants can feed information on who they are, what they’ve got going on, and why the guest should come back, even if they are subtle reminders while they work their way around the kiosk's system.
When the day comes for kiosks to become a part of the full service restaurant, the entire experience is going to change: front-of-house, back-of-house, and for the customer as well. Restaurants can then focus on providing more of an experience than just a really great meal.
Food could be delivered on conveyor belts around the restaurant. Chefs could tailor each day’s menu to a particular “theme”. And kiosks could present menu options in fun and informative infographic-style layouts.
Whether a futuristic style of dining takes over or kiosks just neatly and quietly fit into the mold of restaurant dining as we know it now, the benefits of the kiosk are undeniable.
Contributor Suzanne Scacca is a FOH veteran of the restaurant industry and who now writes about the joys of cooking and consuming food.