Pre-ordering kiosk units such as the ones from EMN8 used at Disneyworld not only reduce the clogging around serving stations but allow customers to transmit custom orders clearly; meanwhile, operators get to suggest upsells and add-ons based on what the customer is ordering.
The hot new wave in high-tech ordering is self-service. A number of prominent fast-food chains have already initiated pilot programs testing the feasibility on a large scale of pre-ordering before a customer reaches a cashier's counter. The technology promises to make transactions easier and quicker for customers, reduce labor costs for operators and add to the bottom line by boosting check averages.
Similar technology has also been popping up in onsite environments, where it is often available either from free-standing pre-order kiosk units or from onsite computers with access to the host's intranet.
One advantage of self-service ordering is that it effectively facilitates building up orders. The systems can be programmed to suggest upsells and add-ons automatically, based on what the customer is ordering, the same way every time. This undoubtedly has contributed to the increased check averages many operators say they realize with the technology.
But perhaps most significant for onsite operators is the fact that remote pre-ordering helps makes customized "to-order" food concepts more practical. Such customization is highly popular with modern consumers. However, its practical application in the field has been hampered by longer transaction times and the communication issues that go with each customer making an individualized request, especially given today's increasingly diverse customer (and employee) populations.
With pre-order systems, customers simply choose the language in which they want to conduct the transaction, or it is done in language-free graphics.
Preordering also eliminates the crowds around stations that can discourage additional business. As these systems become more common, they should allow servery designers to free up extra space around typical to-order stations like deli concepts, and put it to other uses.
Finally, preordering can also be used to extend the utility and effectiveness of a range of foodservice programs. Catering is an obvious beneficiary, allowing customers to place and confirm orders and make payment paperlessly.
For example, Boston College is planning to extend such a system to the luxury boxes at its football stadium to facilitate in-suite food and beverage service.
Ordering from computers is not limited to terminals and laptops. Some operators are extending the service to other mediums that receive wireless internet service, like cell phones. At Sprint Nextel's corporate campus in Overland Park, KS, employees will soon be able to use their cell phone web browsers to place and pay for meal orders.
Similarly, while they may not be able to order from them yet, students using Rave Wireless cell phone service at Montclair (NJ) State University can use their mobile phones to check on the day's dining hall menu, as well as other such things as event and bus schedules.
It even has a personal safety feature that tracks the phone location by GPS and alerts police or campus security if a student does not show up at an intended destination within a given amount of time and fails to answer a check-in call. In the future, Rave is looking to augment the system with features that will allow cell phones to be used as a keycard and even as a payment vehicle.
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