Self-service point-of-sale (POS) systems are innovative, popular tools that are increasingly being adopted by restaurants and eateries across the U.S. Unlike traditional POS tools, self-service POS systems allow customers to control their own actions, such as ordering and paying, without requiring assistance from a server.
By freeing up restaurant staff to focus more on the quality of service they provide to patrons, these systems can not only provide improved efficiency, but lead to an improved customer experience overall.
To help restaurateurs benefit most from these tools, Software Advice surveyed 1,926 U.S. adults to identify the top preferences for self-service POS systems.
We then shared the results with industry experts to gain their insights. This report outlines our most important takeaways.
- The most preferred self-service POS features are the ability to customize orders (cited by 47 percent of respondents) and the ability to view pictures of menu items (26 percent).
- The most preferred self-payment features are the ability to split the bill (39 percent) and use multiple payment types (31 percent).
- The two most preferred restaurant to use self-service systems are casual (45 percent) and fast casual (35 percent).
Majority of Respondents Would Use Self-Service POS System
The first thing we surveyed respondents on was whether or not they would use a self-service POS system in a restaurant, if available. The results were close: 54 percent said they would use these systems for ordering or paying, while 46 percent would not.
Willingness to Use Self-Service POS Services
Despite the closeness of these results, experts say patrons’ preference for using self-service POS technology is on the rise.
“I see rapid [self-service] kiosk adoption across multiple verticals,” says Chris Ciabarra, co-founder and chief technology officer for Revel Systems, an iPad-based POS system with self-service offerings. “They’re already a standard in Asia and Europe, and this will be a natural progression to consumer behavior in the U.S.”
Gary McGrath, executive vice president of TableSafe, a full-service restaurant solution featuring RAIL, a self-payment device, echos Ciabarra. In fact, McGrath says he’s surprised that such a large percentage of respondents in our sample said they wouldn’t use a self-service POS system.
“Given the rash of credit card breaches, we’ve found that the heightened concern for security has made restaurants guests much more interested in paying at the table so they don’t have to give up their credit card [to a waiter],” he explains.
Research likewise supports the rise of this technology. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 43 percent of respondents surveyed would order on a touch-screen kiosk if available, while 47 percent would use an electronic payment system.
Customizing Order and Splitting the Bill Are Most Preferred Features
Using the responses from the question above, we filtered out those respondents who said they wouldn’t use a self-service POS system. We then surveyed those that had responded affirmatively on their most-preferred features, splitting the questions across self-ordering and self-paying features.
Among respondents in our sample, the most preferred self-ordering feature was the ability to customize an order (47 percent). This was followed by viewing pictures of menu items (26 percent) and viewing specials and discounts (19 percent).
Most Preferred Self-Ordering Features
Paul Motenko, co-chief executive officer of Stacked Restaurants, a full-service casual restaurant that offers a create-your-own menu format, says Stacked built their restaurant concept around the ability to customize orders with self-service, tabletop tablets.
“Our main goal was to have a very focused menu,” he explains.
“We have four major menu categories: burgers, pizza, salad and mac ‘n’ cheese. We wanted to have an incredible ability to customize in each of those categories, and we came to the conclusion that the only way to execute our vision in a comfortable way for our guests was to have a touchscreen device at every table. It was all about customization, and [self-service POS] technology was the tool to facilitate the customization.”
Motenko says his company has conducted guest surveys that show Stacked’s customization ability is the feature patrons appreciate most.
A screenshot of Stacked’s self-service POS, shown with available burger customizations
Next, we asked respondents which self-payment features they prefer most in a POS system. Splitting the bill was the most cited feature (39 percent), followed by using multiple forms of payment (31 percent) and multiple receipt options (16 percent).
Most Preferred Self-Payment Features
Motenko says splitting the check was a must-have feature when designing Stacked’s POS system.
“The thing our guests seem to appreciate the most about being able to pay via a tablet is the time it saves,” he says. “The song and dance that you usually go through to get your check, hand over your credit card, get the slip and sign it is so time consuming.
The ability to not only pay when you want to, but to have a 10-second experience versus what can be a five minute or more experience is greatly appreciated by our guests.”
McGrath says that all four self-payment features cited in the chart above are attractive for restaurant operators, and a big driver of the decision to adopt these devices. “The bill-splitting and tip calculator are well-received,” McGrath says. “And now that ApplePay is joining the fray, I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘multiple forms of payment’ climbs to the top of the list.”
Self-Service Preferred for Use in Casual and Fast Casual Restaurants
Next, we asked respondents what type of restaurant they would prefer to utilize self-service POS systems in (for both self-ordering and self-payment). For self-ordering, respondents were split evenly between casual and fast casual establishments, at 41 percent each.
However, exactly 50 percent of respondents said they’d prefer to self-pay at casual restaurants, while only 29 percent said they’d prefer to do so at fast casual restaurants.
Fast food restaurants types were preferred by 13 percent of respondents for self-ordering and self-paying. Meanwhile, fine dining was preferred by 6 percent for self-ordering and 8 percent for self-payment.
Preferred Type of Restaurant for Self-Service POS
Our results again align with the Restaurant Industry Forecast findings, which indicate that 57 percent of fast casual and 50 percent of casual restaurant operators plan to invest more in customer-facing self-service technology in 2014.
Motenko says he’s not surprised that only 13 percent of respondents prefer using self-service POS systems in fast food establishments, as these eateries are already characterized by a quick and streamlined ordering and payment process.
“[In fast food establishments] you tell them what you want, they get it done and you pay right there,” he says. “A self-service system wouldn’t make the payment part any faster or the ordering part any more efficient, and it’s much easier if you just talk to a human being.
In full service casual restaurants, there are ways to make the tablets a benefit to the guests. But in fast food, the tablet would primarily be a benefit to the restaurant, because they’d be a labor-saving device.”
Interestingly, while less than 10 percent of respondents said they’d prefer to use self-order or self-pay services at fine dining restaurants, 51 percent of fine dining restaurant operators from the Restaurant Industry Forecast plan to devote more resources to self-service.
“In a fining dining environment, I think the service level is almost as important, if not more so, than the meal itself,” Motenko says.
“There’s an expectation that if you’re going to spend that kind of money, you’re going to get a level of service that truly enhances the experience. If you’re going to spend $50 on a steak, you want to talk to the guy about exactly how the steak is prepared, why it’s so good and what you can pair with it.”
Still, Motenko says, there is some value in the integration of tablets at fine dining establishments.
“Some have tablets with the wine list, and so on,” he notes. “This is good because it provides a little more information about the wines, and you don’t have to feel as intimidated talking to someone if you’re not a sophisticated wine drinker. Essentially, in limited application tablets do make some sense, but certainly not for ordering.”
John Regal, chief marketing officer at Ziosk, a POS-integrated Web-enabled tablet provider, also sees the need to tailor the integration of self-service technology around restaurant type.
“The use and benefit of technology differs by the industry segment it is servicing,” he explains. “For example, with quick-service and fast casual restaurant concepts, we see self-service kiosks that enable guests to order, customize and pay for their entire meal—expediting their entire experience without need of a server.
However, for casual dining, the benefit of tabletop devices act as a server assistant (as opposed to replacing a server), giving them more time to interact with guests at the table.”
According to Motenko, this concept was the root of Stacked’s decision to implement this technology at its locations. “Our philosophy was that our system should be able to do everything a guest can do when dealing with a human being,” he says.
“In our case, it’s assisting our guests to customize and get exactly what they want, but our servers are there to provide hospitality and make sure our guests are having a great time.”
Patrons Want to Use Self-Service at the Table
We next asked respondents where they want to use self-service systems in restaurants. The overwhelming majority (88 percent) said they’d prefer to use this technology at their table, while just 12 percent said they’d prefer to do so at a kiosk upon arrival.
Preferred Location for Using Self-Service POS System
“[Having iPad kiosks] is not a good idea unless you have a very simple menu,” Motenko explains. “The more complex the menu, the more uncomfortable it becomes to stand there and try to place an order while others are waiting in line behind you. There’s also a learning curve to it—most people need some level of instruction, which is hard to do in a fast casual environment.”
Self-Ordering Most Preferred by Ages 18-34
Finally, we broke down respondents’ preference for using self-service technology by age. We found that 71 percent of those age 18 to 34 prefer to use self-service; the highest of the three age groups.
This percentage drops with an increase in respondents’ age: 57 percent of those age 35 to 54 said they’d prefer to self-order, while just 34 percent of those age 55 expressed a preference for this technology.
Self-Ordering Preference by Age
Our results suggest that, before integrating a self-service POS system, restaurant operators need to be fully aware of their target age demographics.
“If your establishment’s customer base includes young, middle-age and older generation consumers, you’ll fail if your new [self-service POS] technology makes one or two of the segments happy, but alienates the others,” says Joe Snell, CEO of TableSafe, a pay-at-the-table solution.
While Motenko agrees that older demographics typically aren’t as attracted to Stacked’s self-service technology, he’s also seen glimmers of success with his older patrons.
“Once they come in the restaurant, they’re often the most enthusiastic because they feel a sense of accomplishment, and it’s kind of unique for them,” he says. “They feel like they’ve had a cool experience, and a lot of them really like it. But, they’re also the group that doesn’t appreciate it the most. They’re the most passionate one way or the other about the technology itself.”
Our survey results indicate that order customization, pictures of menu items, splitting the bill and multiple payment options are highly valued features of self-service restaurant POS systems. Respondents prefer to use these systems in casual and fast casual restaurant types, and those ages 18-34 are most likely to prefer the use of self-service devices.
Regardless of these findings, however, it’s important for restaurant operators to adopt self-service POS technology in a way that enhances their desired customer experience; not merely for the sake of novelty or to save labor costs.
“Guests should feel like they received as much attention as at a full-service restaurant,” Motenko says. “My philosophy is that you should never do things that are primarily to your benefit unless they’re to the guests’ benefit as well.”
To collect the data in this report, we conducted an online survey of five questions, and gathered 1,926 responses from randomly selected adults within the U.S. If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.