KEY POINTS:
* With consumers so accustomed to ordering food via their phones, the digital menu display is now being adapted for on-premises use
* Interactive digital menu kiosks are beginning to proliferate throughout the US as QSRs and casual dining compete with McDonald’s ‘Create Your Taste’ touchscreens
* They offer a range of business benefits, from time and labour cost savings to integration with your back of house stock and management systems
* Facial recognition software, staff-free service and integration with Artificial Intelligence are the likely next steps of development

IN THIS AGE of the smartphone, the old-style written menu is rapidly being supplanted by a highly visual presentation, complete with interactive order functionality.
With consumers now so accustomed to using their phones to order food, it’s no surprise that the interactivity of the digital menu display is being adapted for on-premises use.
McDonald’s is probably the most familiar example of a digital in-store interactive menu, with its ‘Create Your Taste’ touchscreens now commonplace across its Australian outlets. This is just the iceberg tip of a rapidly emerging industry trend, as interactive digital menu kiosks are beginning to proliferate throughout the US and will likely soon spread to our shores.
There’s no better place to track nascent foodservice technologies than at the industry’s premier trade event — the National Restaurant Association Show held in Chicago each May. At last year’s show, 12 self-serve digital menu kiosks were on exhibition. This year, the number had more than tripled — a sure sign that the industry has stepped up production to meet growing demand.
Such is the popularity of the McDonald’s digital kiosk model that competing QSRs (which comprise the bulk of the US foodservice market) and casual dining restaurants have no choice but to introduce their own in order to remain competitive.
Apart from their appeal to the digital-conscious consumer, these interactive menu kiosks offer a range of business benefits to the foodservice operator. For a start, they save on time and labour costs — with your customers keying in their own orders, staff are freed up to concentrate on food preparation and delivery.
An even bigger benefit is the technology’s ability to integrate with your back of house management software and systems. For example, the data capture provided by the technology enables you to make real-time menu adjustments in response to changing stock levels and customer demand.
And because the digital displays can be immediately updated, you can use them to promote specials, or adjust pricing upwards or downwards in realtime as required — for example in response to overstocks or shortages — all via a remote digital app.
A truly remarkable degree of sophistication can be found in some of the latest generation digital menu displays. For example, the Bite intelligent kiosk on show at NRA 2018 utilises facial recognition software to improve order taking.
Not only can it identify regular customers and their usual meal preferences, it can even be used to run customer loyalty programs by tracking orders through the system and matching these to their customers.
There are even self-service digital menu kiosks designed to allow foodservice outlets to be run entirely free of serving staff. The ReadyTouch suite from 365 Retail Markets enables customers to place their order ahead of time, then go to the outlet and pick it up, scan a barcode, pay and go — all without human interaction.
In their quest to reach the digital cutting edge, technology designers are even putting a contemporary spin on what were obsolete food presentation methodologies. Take for example the old ‘automat’ concept — an icon of 1950s culture, in which meals were displayed in a bank of glass-fronted lockers that the customer opened by putting a coin in a slot. The 21st century equivalent is the Apex Order Pickup System, which brings back the food locker but utilises latest technology. These days, the customer orders in advance via smartphone, arrives at the outlet to pick up the food and scans a QR code which has been sent to their phone to obtain a four digit access code which opens the locker containing their meal.
The anticipated next step of development is the integration of these systems with Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is already being widely used as a customer service tool across multiple websites and order platforms. Its in-store use is set to further improve efficiencies in service delivery, reduce customer wait times and maybe even render incorrect order-taking obsolete!
mcdonalds kiosk
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