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In transitioning from a traditional sit-down restaurant to more of a quick-serve format, Johnny Rockets Group Inc. is giving careful consideration to self-order kiosks to improve the speed of service for customers. In moving to a more QSR orientation, the chain is addressing some of the same factors facing other QSR chains seeking to improve customer service.

The kiosks are part of Johnny Rockets brand refresh that builds on the brand’s 30-year heritage and creates a modern evolution of the iconic images, style, food and experience that have been associated with the company.

“We are moving into the space of quick service,” said Harry Yu, Johnny Rockets senior director of IT. “We have a mixed mode. We are opening numerous locations as a QSR model; a smaller footprint and quick service.”

The kiosks the company is currently testing are used for “to-go” orders.

“The intent is to enhance guests’ experience, speed of service, to help them get their order quicker and easier,” he said. “It’s aimed to enhance the guest experience so they don’t have to go and wait in front of a register for a to-go order.”

Johnny Rockets, a global restaurant chain providing a classic all-American experience, recently announced it will be offering self-ordering kiosks in its new restaurants in Australia, a new market for the company.

The company opted to work with its point-of-sale software provider, NCR Corp., in testing its expansion into self-order kiosks. Johnny Rockets uses NCR’s Aloha online ordering software to streamline restaurant marketing programs and promote online orders.

Integrating with existing software

“For the kiosk that NCR is developing today, the backbone process is Aloha online ordering,” Yu said. “It (the kiosk) talks to Aloha online ordering. It makes sense to continue to go down that road, the partnership with NCR. It was a natural progression with the product that they offer.”

The online ordering was a separate project for the company, Yu said, but it turned out that the two technologies (kiosks and online ordering) support each other.

The company has been testing self-ordering kiosks for the past year and a half in four locations, he said.

Each kiosk represents a $170,000 investment, with an expected ROI of 21 to 24 months, the company said.

As the chain tests the kiosks, it continues to monitor changes in the technology. “With Australia’s expansion, we are thinking about the NCR product,” Yu said. “This is a new program that we took on.”

Feedback positive

“We have seen very positive usage,” Yu said for the kiosk tests. “When we first tested it, there was very high usage.” The response level has varied from one location to another, he said.

At one restaurant on the East Coast, more people waited in line to use the kiosk than the cash register. “It was a pretty interesting observation to see how guests preferred the kiosk,” Yu said. This was particularly true for millennial customers.

One generalization Yu is comfortable making is the kiosk reduces order errors. “And it helps the speed of service for sure,” he said. “That we know for a fact. It eliminated the chances for error between the guest and the cashier.”

“Hopefully it will be a completed, full-function product by the end of this year,” he said.

When it is ready to deploy the kiosks, the company wants the unit to be EMV certified.

The chain also would like to be sure the unit is flexible in its ordering capabilities.

Combination orders required

The kiosk needs to have full combination meal order functionality, Yu said. This is important for the quick-serve format that was not an issue for the sit-down restaurant. Traditional Johnny Rockets restaurants do not offer combo options. However, it is a critical option for QSR setup.

The restaurant self-order kiosk market is expanding, Yu said. “The hardware itself is pretty straightforward. They (self-order kiosks) all do very similar stuff. Software design is what everybody is trying to perfect.”

“Within the restaurant space, it (the specific kiosk’s functionality) varies based on the type of restaurant,” he said. There are certain kiosks specifically for sit-down restaurants and others for take-out restaurants. “They all have different requirements,” he said.

Johnny Rockets pays attention to how well the product is designed.

The chain does not presently offer an ordering app, but an app is under consideration.

“In terms of vendors trying to expand their horizons, everybody’s trying to do that,” Yu observed about order apps.

A brand refresh

As for self-ordering kiosks, “I think it’s a critical piece for our design and for the direction that we’re going,” he said. “We are in a mode of refreshing the brand and making it more relevant to the new generation. Self-order kiosk becomes a key element for what we’re trying to do.”

The self-serve kiosk represents a new NCR product offering.

A new user experience

Aloha online ordering integrates all NCR products that are designed to engage the consumer, said Brian Sipusich, NCR product manager for kiosks. “That might be loyalty gift card, online ordering, kiosk or survey,” he said. “What we wanted to do with the kiosk is build a different user experience, but be able to actually use a lot of the configuration that’s already set up for online ordering so the kiosk isn’t a whole new setup; it’s a plug in,” he said. “It’s a different product, but we share configuration. We share components.”

NCR’s strategy is to go to market early next year with an iPad kiosk designed specifically for restaurants. The company is referring to the kiosk as “consumer self-ordering” for the time being, Sipusich said.

“A lot of our focus is going to be on the quick-service and fast casual market,” he said. “That’s really who’s coming to us with a lot of the demand.”

Echoing Yu of Johnny Rockets, Sipusich said one group of consumers playing an important role are the millennials who are looking to take control of their activities “in fancy, cool ways.”

Restaurants also want to have additional entry points to place orders during high-volume time periods.

The kiosks also improve order accuracy.

“One of the things you find with self ordering and kiosks is that consumers actually order more,” added Tim Henschel, senior manager of public relations for NCR.

While the self-ordering restaurant kiosk is still in its early growth stage, most observers are reluctant to predict what specific type of kiosk, if any, will become an industry standard.

“Everybody is different, in that there is not a common niche in what people are trying to do,” Sipusich said, referring to self-ordering kiosks. “I think the commonality of the kiosks in all of these restaurants is that it’s an innovative way to reach their consumer. I don’t know if there’s any sort of feature or functionality that’s driving everybody. Each of these (restaurant) customers is different.”

Mobile orders also take hold

Consumers are also placing more mobile orders to circumvent waiting in line, Henschel said. “You see a number of different apps today that are widely used,” he said. “It (mobile ordering) is faster than the drive-thru.”

Johnny Rockets has found that ordering technology plays an important role in making a dining experience easier and more rewarding to consumers. For the time being, the self-ordering kiosk is the company’s focus in this journey.

Please note also that Johnny Rockets Operations and Development President James Walker is speaking at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit this summer in London. Walker is skilled in include mergers and acquisitions, development, operations, licensing and R&D. Please find out more at the summit site. 

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