Balancing Restaurant Technology + the Human Touch
There has been a lot of news about self-order kiosk technology these days, including a couple of head-scratchers.
First, one of the pioneers of restaurant self-order technology, Philadelphia-based Honeygrow recently announced their new concept “Minigrow” will abandon kiosks, opting instead for a traditional assembly line. That’s a major surprise given all the praise Honeygrow has received for their kiosk design and ordering process.
In fact, earlier this year, Honeygrow founder Justin Rosenburg explained the necessity of kiosks in a Washington Post article: “A kiosk made particular sense for the stir-fries at Honeygrow, Rosenberg said, because an assembly-line ordering system would create an ‘incessant bottleneck.’”
So why did they choose an assembly-line ordering system for Minigrow? Is the completely custom-designed kiosk system they employ not flexible enough to adapt to the new concept? Or, is the cost of deployment simply too high for smaller venues?
And then there’s the news that 2016 NRN Breakout Brand Eatsa is closing 5 of its 7 locations. “In our eagerness to get the Eatsa experience in front of as many people as possible, we now realize that we expanded our retail footprint too quickly,” the company wrote in a blog post. They would not be the first company to make that mistake, but there may be more to consider with this move.
Founders Tim Young and Scott Drummond have technology backgrounds and spent 18 months working on software and systems to design the concept. “We did a massive amount of tests on the food and the experience,” Drummond told Nation’s Restaurant News last year. “We built a mock-up store. We tested all of the software. We tested the technology. We had a fully vetted model in place prior to launch.”
Drummond’s emphasis on software makes me wonder: was the concept essentially about the restaurant or about the technology?
Their recovery plan gives us a clue: “we’re going to increase our focus on enabling other restaurants to use the eatsa platform.” Eatsa appears to be pivoting from a restaurant concept to a technology provider.
One takeaway from these announcements is that technology is a tool, not a strategy. Eatsa forgot that people come to a restaurant primarily for the food. A trendy concept that doesn’t consistently deliver on food quality won’t have staying power, no matter how cool the technology or buzzy the press.
The second takeaway centers on the idea of balance: what’s the right combination of technology and the human element?
Self-order technology is successful when implemented in the right way. Kiosks are a very efficient method for customers to order and pay for their food. Kiosks from NEXTEP SYSTEMS for example, have a proven track record of increasing check averages with Intelligent Upsell® as well as increasing throughput during peak hours.
BUT our kiosks are not intended to replace or eliminate human interaction in restaurants. In fact, it’s just the opposite: I like to say: “Kiosks let humans be human.”
By automating the order and payment process, a restaurant can let their staff fill more customer-service roles. Freed from the responsibility of taking orders as quickly as possible, restaurant staff can interact with guests while they wait for their food, when the order is complete, or even while they’re ordering.
The assembly-line ordering process seems like a positive guest interaction, in theory. But in reality, it creates bottlenecks because it mixes the ordering process with conversation. Including self-order kiosks in your concept allows you to separate the operational from the personal: your team can have great conversations with your guests, while your kiosks never stop upselling.
Kiosks can’t be warm and welcoming, but neither are staff members when they’re under the pressure of a growing line. When done correctly, kiosks automate repetitive, transactional experiences, creating the time and space for restaurant staff to be truly hospitable.