Not if, But When: A Self Order Commentary
Eleven years ago, a small group of ambitious entrepreneurs started NEXTEP SYSTEMS on a simple premise: There had to be a better way to order and pay for meals. Self-service permeated so many aspects of our lives, from ATMs to self-checkout, boarding pass kiosks, and more. But restaurants provided few self-service options in 2005.
Our instincts told us that many people would rather order for themselves than wait in line. Our initial product, the self order kiosk, proved that out. NEXTEP spent the next decade becoming the leading provider of touchscreen ordering for restaurants. We have worked with hundreds of concepts across thousands of locations and have been granted a number of patents on our product suite, with another half dozen patents currently pending.
Still, we mostly saw adoption within entrepreneurial concepts rather than established brands. Upstarts recognized the benefits of self order (speed, control, consistency, check average, etc.) and were not afraid of alienating guests or breaking an established operation. They began implementing self order kiosks and smartphone ordering, and hundreds switched to touchscreen drive-thru ordering. We rounded out our product suite with an enterprise scale POS (front and back of house), loyalty and gift card options, digital signage, and more, becoming the one-stop shop for foodservice technology—which allowed restaurants to focus on their core competencies.
All factors pointed to an eventual tipping point for self order. Minimum wage rose; technology got faster, cheaper, and smaller; and new generations of smartphone users were seeking instant gratification. Lines became a symbol of “they don’t get it” rather than “look how popular…” Consumers now understand that labor should be focused on production and customer service over order entry.
But the large QSRs faced a public relations nightmare. If they announced they were replacing counter staff with touchscreen and smartphone ordering, they would be vilified much like the automotive companies were criticized for installing robots. But with the national minimum wage going from $7.25 to $15.00, the largest restaurant chains realized they had no choice.