NEXTEP Helps an Asian Restaurant Move Its Buns

Read how NEXTEP kiosks became an integral part of the Wow Bao brand experience.

Wow Bao, a Lettuce Entertain You Asian restaurant concept, partners with NEXTEP SYSTEMS for faster and better experience. By Richard Slawsky | Contributing Editor

The players
Wow Bao is a fast casual Asian concept with three locations in the Chicago area. The menu features bao (hot steamed Asian buns with a variety of fillings) as well as potstickers, rice bowls and the restaurant’s signature homemade ginger ale. Wow Bao is operated by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, which owns, licenses or manages more than 75 establishments in seven states.

NEXTEP SYSTEMS, based in Troy, Michigan, is a leading provider of automated ordering solutions for restaurants, casinos, airports, sporting venues, grocery stores, hotels and other high-volume venues. NEXTEP’s core business revolves around self-order kiosks, online ordering and digital menu boards.

The challenge
When Lettuce Entertain You veteran Geoff Alexander took over as managing partner of the Wow Bao concept in January 2009, one of the main issues he faced was finding a way to speed up service in the restaurant without increasing payroll. The concept features separate order and pickup stations, and at the height of a busy lunch as many as 300 people per hour pass though the line.

“We are a young concept, and it is all about speed for us,” Alexander said.

Several years ago, Alexander had seen a newspaper story about a Chinese restaurant that was testing having its customers order via self-service kiosks. Although he was familiar with kiosks being used in banks, movie theaters and airports, he had never seen them in a restaurant environment.

At the time, Alexander filed the idea away for future consideration. The notion returned, though, when he voted in the 2008 presidential election.

“There was a long line, and they had one of those automated voting machines and nobody wanted to use it. I just walked up to it, and it could not have been easier,” he said. “When I got involved with the Wow Bao concept, I knew this was what we needed to have.”

The solution
Alexander wanted a self-order kiosk that would interface completely with the restaurant’s MICROS 3700 point-of sale system, so he asked MICROS for advice on how to proceed. MICROS directed him to development partner NEXTEP SYSTEMS.

“(NEXTEP) has been very good to us and have made it as easy as possible,” Alexander said. “They get what we need done.” NEXTEP supplied Wow Bao with two freestanding kiosks that allow guests to order and pay without waiting in line. The kiosk graphics and user interface were designed specifically for Wow Bao, and are consistent with its existing brand concept.

“Wow Bao is an ideal candidate for self service,” said NEXTEP president Tommy Woycik. “They are smart, aggressive and entrepreneurial. There is no question that Wow Bao and their guests will mutually benefit from implementing NEXTEP’s kiosk solution.”

The kiosks feature the entire Wow Bao menu on each touchscreen display, and recommend complementary sides and beverages throughout the order process.

The kiosks, which accept credit cards for payment, are located near the entrance to the restaurant, so customers can walk directly to the pick-up window when their order is ready, avoiding the line at the counter.

The Wow Bao kiosks also include an optional feature that recognizes customers’ credit cards and recalls their previous orders. Customers then have the option of repeating one of their previous orders, further speeding up the process.

“The customer recognition works,” Alexander said. “A guest swiped his credit card and the kiosk welcomed him back by name and allowed him to re-order his last order at the touch of one button. In and out in 30 seconds. Amazing! Awesome!”

The results
Since the NEXTEP SYSTEMS kiosks were installed in May 2009, they have delivered a triple payoff of higher check averages, faster customer throughput and a savings in payroll, Alexander says.

The kiosk sales average between 50 cents to $1 more per transaction, he says. The kiosks offer a beverage after each item sold, versus a cashier who may ask once, and each item is offered an up-sell as a combo.

“The guest really enjoys it, because if they are on the phone they don’t have to put someone on hold to talk to the person at the register,” Alexander said.

About 25 percent of customers prefer to use the kiosk to place their order instead of walking up to the counter, and users come in all demographics.

“When you watch (the kiosk) at lunchtime, there are very young children who like the technology,” Alexander said. “Then there is the older generation who think it is cool and they want to play with it.”

At the restaurant’s Water Tower Place location, which is primarily a tourist destination, Alexander often stations an employee near the entrance to encourage customers to use the kiosks.

And Alexander is so pleased with his experience with NEXTEP SYSTEMS that his plan is for all future Wow Bao locations to feature self-order kiosks. While he can’t speak for others partners, he does know the kiosks are being considered for other Lettuce Entertain You concepts.

“I am a big fan of NEXTEP,” he said. “I consider them a partner now.”


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