The recent COVID-19 pandemic has demanded dramatic changes in industries worldwide. With “social distancing” now the rallying cry of coronavirus prevention, consumers are now spending exclusively with preference for outlets that offer specific mediums for them to order without having to engage in potentially dangerous face-to-face contact.  A reflection of germ prevention efforts, customers increasingly prefer to order their food via kiosks, rather than from the cashier.

In times of panic, consumers are consistently put at ease when they are able to retain their sense of control. With kiosks, making sanitation wipes available for patrons to use is an obvious avenue of delivering said comfort, as customers are able to clean the kiosk before use to their own level of satisfaction. It’s just as easy for a restaurant to clean a kiosk with alcohol between customers themselves to simultaneously do their part to help stop the spread of the virus, as well as garner support from local patrons and even press outlets. 

Consumers’ desire to avoid contagious illness is speeding up the adoption of kiosks even more. Our earlier predictions for clients cited that kiosks would become a staple of mainstream ordering in two to five years; but, today, we are seeing an unprecedented number of requests for immediate installations at quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants, and we realize this deviation from the dangerous status quo has already begun. In fact, some of our greatest demand is coming from large chains that need kiosks not just in one, but in multiple locations.

The harsh reality is many restaurants have been forced to switch to an exclusively takeout-and-delivery model almost overnight, operating under city and state mandates to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They have laid off some of their dining room staff as a result, or redeployed them. In order to preserve the efficiency of not just the kitchen, but brand as a whole, they need an automated solution.

Kiosks are the answer for many. With customers entering their orders on the kiosk—or interacting with the menu entirely on their phone via a scannable QR code on the kiosk—the greatly reduced wait staff can attend to the more urgent tasks.

Some restaurants have even created what we call a synthetic drive-thru using kiosks as a way to reduce foot traffic inside the store. By wheeling the device outside the restaurant, customers can place orders outside, and wait in their cars for the waitstaff to bring their food once ready.

In either scenario, there’s a massive benefit to using kiosks: no one has to handle cash—the dirtiest thing in most restaurants. Customers can pay by credit or debit card at a terminal. However, at restaurants where customers like to pay in cash, there are kiosks available that can handle cash, as well.

Kiosks ultimately reduce payroll costs, even outside of times of panic. Given that many restaurants will be hurting for months to come after operating without dine-in customers, those savings will be essential to economic survival. Kiosk software costs are under $200 a month, and it can easily save a small restaurant $4,000 to $6,000 a month on labor costs, not to mention operating at a higher level of accuracy as well. Kiosk hardware can be leased or financed and paid for gradually, so the restaurant does not have to bear a large capital expenditure, something most companies are unable to do during economic crises. Best of all, deploying a kiosk is quick: we’ve deployed them for our small business customers in a few days.

Restaurants using kiosks also bring in more revenue by increasing the average ticket typically by 12 to 22 percent. Like grocery shoppers who buy more when they’re hungry, customers tend to place larger orders when they enter them into a kiosk. Restaurant owners can customize the upsell, as well. The system, without fail, can be designed to ask if they’d like to “supersize” their meal, with fries, dessert, and more.  One Asian restaurant in our customer base saw a 38 percent increase in kiosk orders, even when it was suffering a dramatic decrease in orders. Looking beyond the current recession, these larger orders will be a long-term benefit to many quick-serve restaurants. 

Although a restaurant could presumably use a service like UberEATS to take orders from customers—and many do—there’s a cost to that. By instead implementing their own online ordering, restaurants save the 25­–30 percent charged by app-based platforms, and are able to redeploy staff members to assist in delivery.  For our clients, enabling online ordering can be done in a matter of minutes.

Typically, restaurants have been laggards in adopting new technology. That isn’t an option in the new, post-coronavirus economy. Restaurants need a new way to operate, and they have little financial room for wasted dollars.

In today’s day and age, how many tellers do you see at a bank? It’s not unusual to see only one or two employees running the whole branch, thanks to modern technology like automated money counting machines.

Customers welcome this kind of automation. Think about what it used to be like to go to the airport and wait in a long line so you could check in. Now you can move quickly through one of a long bank of kiosks, aided by an attendant if you have questions. Kiosks have made airline travel a frictionless and positive experience, at least until you hit security.

The restaurant industry is next. Ordering food from a kiosk, instead of a cashier, at a quick-serve eatery is quickly becoming the norm. Companies that are able to modernize and innovate will stay afloat.  The question is: how long can the others survive?

Sam Zietz is the CEO of Grubbrr, a leader in self-ordering kiosks. Grubbrr’s platform allows for rapid deployment of self-ordering technologies to restaurants of all sizes.  He was a prior EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner and his companies have appeared 8 times on the INC 500 list.  Zietz sits on the board of the Palm Beach chapter of YPO, Florida Council of 100 and the Orange Bowl Committee.

Outside Insights, Story, Technology