From Customer Service to Self-Service: Automating the Restaurant Experience

From Customer Service to Self-Service: Automating the Restaurant Experience

From Customer Service to Self-Service: Automating the Restaurant Experience 1440 428 Chute Gerdeman

From increasing minimum wage and concerns over labor costs to creating a customized experience and a desire for faster service, technology is forcing its way into some of the most well known fast food and fast casual formats.

Since 2014 Panera has been seamlessly transitioning existing stores into their Panera 2.0 digital concepts with kiosks, mobile and online ordering. With integrated technologies, customers are now provided an enhanced experience whether dining in or on-the-go, further streamlining the traffic flow between the two types of customer experiences. Meanwhile in Europe fast food chain McDonald’s has rolled out in-store kiosks to almost 45% percent of its restaurants. Stateside they’ve started testing a 2,225 square foot small format store with a walk up window and a two-lane drive thru, but no seating inside. Recently Wendy’s announced their decision to make kiosks available at its 6,000+ units, in addition to plans for mobile ordering and mobile payment. With the significant industry shift, it raises the question… Is tomorrow’s customer service actually self-service?

One restaurant brand that believes automation is the foodservice future is San Francisco-based fast food café, Eatsa. No waiters, no lines, no cash and no seats, this space is stripped down to simple convenience. Menu options can be viewed via a digital screen and orders are managed through an in-store iPad or guests have the option to use their mobile phone.

Here, quinoa is the star of the meal not only because it’s a superfood but because it’s multifunctional, be it a subtle topping or course staple, and a great source of protein. Not to mention it’s highly efficient to produce, only requiring 1/30th of the amount of energy as animal-based proteins, an element that is important to the brand in terms of creating a sustainable food system. Customers choose from pre-made selections like No Worry Curry, Spice Market or Chili con Quinoa or have the option to build their own. Selections are saved based on previous orders and addition recommendations are made based on what’s popular. Topping out at 646 calories max, all bowls are just $6.95 making it not only healthy, but also affordable.

While most restaurant concepts are opening up the kitchen to give their customers a show, Eatsa’s magic is happening entirely behind closed doors. The only thing transparent about this process are the personalized digital cubbies that present your food. Delivered in less than two minutes, the cube lights up with your name, and customers tap twice for access to their food. And for those unfamiliar with the process, a human “concierge” is available for assistance.

“The fundamental core of what we’re trying to do is bring that speed and price point and accessibility within fast food to fast-casual quality and beyond, while minimizing our footprint,” says Tim Young, the concept’s co-founder and CEO. With two locations currently in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the brand is set to scale with an efficient model for future growth.

Takeaway: While some brands may be looking for ways to make their restaurant models more efficient and cost effective, self-service technologies are not for everyone. Today’s digital native diners, Millennials, may find comfort in the approach, but brands should error in caution that the leap may be too great for consumers who still appreciate the face-to-face interaction.

Self-service elements like kiosks and mobile payments add convenience, but shouldn’t be a trade off in the customer experience. With the integration of these new digital experiences, restaurant brands have the opportunity to build loyalty and reward their customers for their visits, as well as create a more customized experience through tracking order history, favorites, and even offer promotions.

Photo Credit: Eater


A collection of insights research and observations across retail, restaurant, c-store and grocery. Helping brands provide a better experience for their customers. Enjoy.

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