How to Optimize the "Create Your Own" Menu


“The bowl is greater than the sum of its parts…”

Riffing on Aristotle might be an unusual way to start a conversation about restaurant ordering, but in this case, it offers some insight. Fast casual restaurants are so appealing in part because of the level of customization they offer: your meal is made to order with the options you prefer. Even traditional QSR restaurants are trying to offer more options to their guests in an effort to compete.

One predictable result has been the “create your own” menu. Whatever the cuisine, the process is similar: pick your bowl, pick your protein, and pick your veggies (or some variation thereof).

Simple, right?

But what happens when the guest picks a bad combination? With today’s more assertive flavors, not everything is meant to go together. If your guest creates a meal that isn’t great, it may be their fault, but you still stand to lose business from their decision. Those guests don’t complain, they just don’t come back.

Many concepts have developed strategies to help guide their guests to make decisions that taste great.

1.) Some address the issue by limiting the menu.

Pat Peterson, executive chef at Beefsteak summed it up this way: “if you allow your guests to compose, you have to be thoughtful about the overall experience. I have made a lot of great-tasting foods that clash with something else on the menu, so I toss those out.”

Bill Guilfoyle, associate professor of business management at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York told QSR Magazine: “Setting limits on the number of ingredients guests can select for a dish saves time and labor.”

While limiting ingredients or options lessens the chance of a bad end result, it also restricts creativity (for both guests and chefs).

2.) Some concepts have turned to signature or chef-curated options as an alternative.

At Pokeworks, which has units in a half-dozen large markets, its Signature Works are meant to guide diners: “It gives customers the opportunity to explore more options for their palates and then come back and try other ones,” says cofounder Kevin Hsu.

Customizing an existing option is faster and more likely to produce a great menu item. However, communicating these options to guests can be challenging and employees need more training to be knowledgeable about signature meals. You know how to make the perfect bowl, but how do you help your guests make their version of the perfect bowl?

3.) Still other concepts rely completely on employees to guide guests through the process.

“When guests create their own and it’s not fantastic, it’s our fault because we allowed them to do that,” Piada’s Matt Harding told QSR Magazine. “But if you have someone up front who knows the flavors and can guide consumers, you have more control.”

Relying on staff to provide insight and guidance has its difficulties. We all know finding and keeping THOSE kind of staff members (the really great ones) is expensive. Plus personalizing the ordering experience to build the perfect bowl takes time, and that slows down the line during busy lunch periods.

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Given the significant drawbacks of each of these strategies, more and more fast casual brands are turning to Self-Order Kiosks.


Our User Experience team builds smart menus that lead a guest through the ordering process as though you were whispering in their ear.

What ingredients come in the Southwest Salad? On demand descriptions and beautiful photos make it fast and easy for guests to find out. And the information is always instant and accurate, unlike what might happen when guests ask the wrong staff member.

What sauces go best in a chicken stir fry? Our smart menus can easily let your guests pick from what you decide are the best options. Does lettuce cause issues in your quesadilla? Smart menus have you covered and won’t show that as an option.

Self Order Kiosks embed all the menu insight and experience you’ve developed for your concept into smart menus, so that every single guest gets their best bowl, every single time. Kiosks don’t call in sick, and they don’t need training. And past order recall let’s your guests enjoy their personal favorites time and time again.

Many self-order advocates focus on the economics of self-order—and certainly there are significant financial benefits to be realized. But the real reason to include Self Order Kiosks in your concept is so that your guests get to enjoy your food at its best, the way you meant it to be.



Interested in Smart Menus?

Contact us to find out how Self Order Kiosks with smart menus can help make your concept unforgettable to guests.