Self-service kiosks often come with a side of trouble that can't be sent back and can lack the human touch many seek in their restaurant experiences — but they also can improve customer service by solving problems that have been front-and-center since the onset of the pandemic.

The kiosks are a customer-facing technology that has changed the face of the restaurant industry, particularly quick service restaurants (QSRs), since the start of the pandemic, a Gartner report recently suggested.

Kiosks enable customers to place orders at the restaurant location without the need to stand in line to order from a cashier. Depending on the QSR and its staffing levels, the completed order is taken to the customer’s table or the customer picks up the completed order at the counter or another designated area. 

The devices also enable QSRs to handle more orders with fewer people dedicated to working the registers, which is important as they deal with staffing shortages, as noted in a QSR blog. Kiosks can also result in larger orders, benefitting the proprietor.

While kiosks provide some definite benefits for the proprietor, at least in the short-term, in helping to manage staffing levels and customer lines, the impact on CX isn’t so clear-cut. 

Below are some of the positive and negative CX implications:

CX Pro: Restaurant Kiosks Can Shorten Order Wait Times

When well-implemented, self-service kiosks can improve CX by shortening wait times between placing and receiving orders, said Brad Jashinsky, director analyst in the Gartner Marketing Practice. “This frees up employees for other tasks (e.g., order preparation). Kiosks also provide consistent prompts for loyalty rewards, order upgrades (which would increase the order amount) and loyalty coupons that employees may forget to ask about.”

Even with the increases in minimum wages, there is still a labor shortage, added David Braun, CEO of Capstone Strategic. “As a result, many food service operations need to change the days and times they are open based on staffing. When kiosks are deployed, they [restaurants] can be open even when they don't have front-line help. This has a dramatic impact on the customer experience because being able to enjoy your favorite food at the exact day and time you want it — is vital to the brand relationship with the consumer.”

CX Con: Speedy Orders From Kiosks Can Overwhelm Kitchens

However, while shortening the time to order in most instances, the kiosks can lead to longer waits to receive food in some instances, according to Jashinsky. “They [kiosks] can speed up ordering, but overwhelm the kitchen staff with orders that can be fulfilled in a timely manner. This can make the wait for food after ordering be much longer and frustrating for customers.”

Related Article: The Long Tail Effect and What It Means for Customer Experience

CX Pro: Kiosks Can Drive Improved Personalization

Though the addition of kiosks means less interaction with restaurant staff, the kiosks can actually boost a restaurant’s personalization with its customers, said Alex May, associate director, travel, hospitality and food services at Movable Ink.

“They [kiosks] offer an individualized way for guests to order without human interaction while still creating a positive brand impression at every touchpoint,” May explained. “Patrons can now easily research food and dietary information, make orders and complete transactions in their own time. Before even placing an order, customers can seamlessly log in to their loyalty accounts on a kiosk and instantly access deals based on their own preferences.”

Kiosks also capture customer data that can be leveraged for additional communications, resulting in a better guest experience in the future — and encouraging them to return, May added.

Learning Opportunities

CX Con: Some Warn Kiosks Hurt Personalization

Others argue personalization is hurt, not helped by the kiosks.

Jashinsky said that when he worked in the restaurant industry, almost every five-star review for a restaurant mentioned an employee. “I have never come across one that mentions a kiosk. Kiosks can sometimes provide a better experience than inexperienced or poorly trained employees, but they can never deliver the same customer experience that great employees can,” he added.

Additionally, Jonah Brown, vice president of client strategy at Merkle said, “In-restaurant digital CX needs to serve that human need by intelligently customizing orders for families versus other guests, making smart menu recommendations, proposing loyalty program elements when appropriate, and perhaps even knowing when a real live human should step in.” 

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CX Con: Sometimes Difficult to Use, Clunky and Hidden Away

While the best-designed restaurant kiosks are intuitive and easy to use, this isn’t the case with all of them, Jashinsky said. “This becomes problematic when an employee cashier is not readily available to assist. Many kiosks are shoehorned into existing restaurant floor plans where customers don’t naturally spot them or are far away from human cashiers.”

“Restaurant-goers want it all: prompt service, accurate order-taking, menu recommendations, and a feeling of being welcome and taken care of — not to mention tasty food,” Brown added. “Unfortunately, most in-restaurant kiosks are digital translations of printed menus rather than advisers for the best guest experience. And too often the kiosks have clunky and unintuitive shopping cart and payment functionality — also detrimental to CX.”

Another issue is that even when restaurant staff is available, they aren’t always trained on the kiosks themselves, particularly as the industry cycles through new employees on a fairly regular basis. 

The Future of Restaurant Kiosks

While Grand View Research expects restaurant kiosks to grow in number for the next few years, Jashinsky sees them eventually being replaced as establishments shift to mobile devices for in-store orders, which is already an option at many restaurants that offer in-store kiosks.