For about a decade, self-ordering kiosks have become a staple at fast food and fast casual restaurants. For the same length of time there has been much debate about such systems’ place in full-service and casual-dining restaurants. Now, as employers grapple to find workers to stem rising demand, the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the way casual dining restaurants think about self-ordering kiosks.

Labor shortages continue to be major problem for everyone
While governments have relaxed regulations and dine-in is now allowed (though often with some restrictions), many are struggling to take advantage of the increased demand for dining. Why? Restaurateurs continue to face difficulties in hiring enough workers to fully reopen. Many restaurants have described being in a state of constant conflict. On one hand they are desperate to improve cash flow and revenue after the last 15 months, but other hand, they are desperate not to lose their current staff. In addition, if someone is sick or isolating, restaurants now do not have the capacity or luxury to bring someone else in. There is effectively nobody “on the bench”.

In order to meet the massive labor shortfall, restaurants have had to up the ante on their recruitment drives. Most restaurateurs have increased the wage for their staff, in the hope that they can retain both current and new employees. Some employers have added bonuses and perks on top of the increased pay – but it is still not enough. According to The National Restaurant Association’s April study, 28% of restaurant operators who are currently understaffed believe it will take seven to 12 months for employee levels to get back to normal, while another 20% think it will take more than a year. Around 10% of operators have no hope, declaring that staff levels will never return to what they were prior to the pandemic.

Even with the best-case scenario, the majority of restaurants cannot afford to wait up to another year to become adequately staffed. The shortage is a major problem for everyone. Restaurant owners are losing money, workers are struggling to fulfil consumer demand and customers themselves are dealing with slow, often sub-par service. Restaurants are desperately searching for a solution. And some have found it. There is now refreshed demand for self-ordering kiosks as a immediate solution to compensate for the ongoing shortage of staff.

Restaurants taking a more strategic view of self-serve technology
Pre-Covid, quick-serve customers increasingly became accustomed to the convenient experience of self-service kiosks. For those types of businesses, the self-serve kiosks supplemented both servers and cashiers, helped bump up profit margins and keep the ordering process speedy.

But when it came to either fine or casual dining, the line stopped firmly there. Self-serve kiosks were viewed as both costly and impersonal. Such establishments take pride in their service, employing attendants to take orders, wait-on and serve their customers. But economic realities are forcing some to take a more strategic view of self-serve technology.

Besides the relief to the staffing pressure, self-serve technology comes with a whole host of additional benefits. In light of the pandemic, consumers have become more health and space conscious. Self-serve technology provides a natural solution to this dilemma; they help promote social distancing because they give customers the power to place their order and pay – all without in-person interaction with restaurant staff.

In addition to safety, one of the biggest additional benefits of restaurants using kiosks is the fact they bring in more revenue – increasing the average ticket typically by 12 to 22 percent. Like grocery shoppers who buy more when they’re hungry, customers tend to place larger orders when they enter them into a kiosk. Customers revel in the privacy and freedom afforded by these devices and tend to select more items. Upselling and cross-selling are also more successful on self-ordering kiosks as restaurants can use the technology to suggest additional items or otherwise market to customers while they’re placing their order.

Self-Service Kiosks: A valuable investment long after COVID-19 has subsided
There is no debating that COVID-19 has changed everything, including how restaurants operate and the way customers use them. Originally pioneered in fast food, self-service technology has gained in importance and acceptance and will continue to be a valuable investment even after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. Not only are they a viable solution to lessen the burden of staff shortages, today’s self-service technology can help businesses deliver the speed and convenience customers expect, and boost check sizes along the way. But more than that, they provide a way forward to reopening restaurants from the Covid-19 crisis while also helping to fortify them against future threats.