Fast Food Gets Faster

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Fast Food Gets Faster

DALLAS--Taking a page from several c-store chains, self-service ordering kiosks are now popping up in the fast food industry, according to a report in The Dallas Morning News .

Major chains including McDonald's, Burger King and Subway are field-testing the machines that allow consumers to order and pay for their meals without any human contact. None of the companies announced a system-wide launch, but experts say the growing use of self-service at the grocer and gas pump has chains thinking more seriously about joining in.

"I think you'll see the initiation of ... a rollout next year," said Jerry Leeman, food service and hospitality manager for IBM. He and others see a fast-food industry that is facing a staffing crunch. At the same time, consumers are becoming less tolerant of time-wasting queues.

Enter the kiosk.

The touch-screens on the kiosks now being tested are almost identical to the display terminals used by workers behind the counters. With them, people can browse menus with multilingual text and eye-popping color graphics, and touch a box to select the items and quantity wanted.

Nearly all of the models in test accept credit and gift cards. More sophisticated ones add debit cards, and the most elaborate -- and expensive -- also take cash. After paying, the customer collects a receipt, and the order is sent electronically to the kitchen. The receipt is then exchanged for food at the counter.

Vendors say the machines can shave minutes off a transaction time -- the fast-food equivalent of finding the Holy Grail. Aside from shortening the customer wait, they say self-service also improves order accuracy because it removes the language barrier (an NCR machine can include up to 26 languages). Plus, it is programmed to always suggest the consumer buy something else (called up-selling), which means higher check averages.