Market Researcher at Steelkiwi Inc.
Long lines and long wait times frustrate guests and discourage them from returning to your restaurant. World-famous restaurants have come up with innovative ideas to eliminate these sources of frustration. Take McDonald’s as an example: In 2015, they started adopting self-service ordering kiosks that let customers select items, customize orders, and pay. Another good example is Stabucks. They built an app that lets customers order and pay in advance, then pick up their orders at their convenience. Those are just two examples, but there are many more.
Today, we aren’t going to talk about all the possible ways to shorten lines in your restaurant. But we’ll focus on self-service kiosks and how they can be used to improve the customer experience, shorten lines, enhance order accuracy, and reduce labor costs. We’ll then talk about the main considerations when building a self-ordering kiosk system based on our team’s experience working on a recent project called Can Tho.
How to create value with your restaurant self-ordering kiosk: The story of Can Tho
The story of the Can Tho kiosk began when Damien Toulouse, the CEO of Can Tho, faced two problems: customers were waiting in long lines and the labor costs at his restaurant were high. Damien started looking for a solution. Meanwhile, he paid attention to how McDonald’s was adopting touchscreen ordering kiosks and wondered whether such kiosks could help him serve customers faster and help his employees use their time more efficiently. To get started, Damien and his team defined customers’ needs and the core value kiosks could provide.
To build a self-service solution that creates real value for your guests, you should begin with discovering the needs and pain points of your target customers so you can find out how to best serve them with a restaurant ordering kiosk. Once you clearly define your value proposition, you can decide on your UX strategy, UI design, and features.
You can use a value proposition canvas to visualize the value your product will offer. This canvas has two parts: a value proposition map and a customer profile, each comprising three blocks.
Start with the customer. Once you’re finished with the customer profile, switch to the value proposition. Remember that these two parts of the canvas should complement each other:
- What are your guests trying to do? ⟶ What products or services help them do this?
- What annoys your guests while they’re trying to get things done? ⟶ How can your product ease their pain points?
- What are your guests’ desired outcomes? ⟶ How can your product create gains?
Here’s what Can Tho’s value proposition canvas looks like:
Essentials of building self-order kiosk software
You have to make a lot of decisions when creating a self-ordering kiosk system, from the UI/UX design to payment gateway integrations. Below, we outline key milestones in the development of custom self-ordering kiosk software, including designing the UI and UX, creating a kiosk API, integrating third-party tools, adding support for a payment terminal, and implementing an admin dashboard.
To create a user journey that matches your customers’ needs, you need to know your target customers.
Below, you can see the user journey in the Can Tho kiosk app. You’ll also find some of the functionality of the Can Tho kiosk software with explanations of why we created the UX the way we did.
Choose a language
There are three languages available in Can Tho: French, Dutch, and English. Our client included French and Dutch because they’re the official languages of Belgium. English, on the other hand, is simply widely used. We thought that those who know neither French nor Dutch would appreciate having the app in English.
Eat in or take away
According to the Takeout, Delivery & Catering Study by Off-Premise Insights, 60% of customers surveyed order takeout. The National Restaurant Association states that the availability of delivery and takeout influences the restaurant choices of 61% of millennials and 46% of older adults. Therefore, if you want to increase your business without expanding and increasing operating costs, allow your customers to order takeaway.
For Can Tho, we included three options: eat in, order takeaway, and eat in and order takeaway.
Order and customize dishes
Customers can order menu items and customize them by adding or removing ingredients. Can Tho states that “while our chefs are in charge of making authentic and tasty dishes, our customers should be in charge of the finishing touch.”
Once customers have made their selections, they move to checkout and payment. Can Tho has fully integrated credit card processing so customers can pay using a standard credit card terminal. Customers can also make contactless payments through NFC.
If Can Tho guests find it difficult to interact with the kiosk, they can always ask for help by clicking the Get Help button displayed on every screen. There’s also an app tutorial so guests can learn how to use the kiosks on their own. The tutorial can be accessed by clicking the How It Works button.
Choose color schemes, fonts, and icon shapes and create screen elements, animations, and screen transitions that are appealing to your customers. If the user interface of your app makes a positive impression, customers will love your app and use it.
Here’s what the UI design for Can Tho looks like:
API for kiosks
Your application will be connected to a server that handles customers’ requests and keeps all menu information. To enable communication between the server and the app, you’ll need an API.
Let’s look at a real-life use case for Can Tho to explain this. When a customer wants to order something to eat, they click the Main Dishes button to browse the menu. The application then sends a request to the server asking something along the lines of What main dishes are on the menu? The server handles the customer’s request and answers by sending a list of main dishes with their prices and descriptions. Whenever a customer makes a request, the server processes it and sends a response. To make communication between the server and the application possible, you need an API.
To streamline the workflow, automate some processes, and deliver better customer service, you’ll need integrations.
You can integrate different types of hardware and software, but the most important is a point of sale (PoS) system. By connecting your kiosk with your PoS system, you’ll enable an easy payment flow. If you don’t have a PoS system, we suggest you choose from existing solutions rather than create a system from scratch, since developing a custom PoS would be quite expensive and time-consuming. Your choice of PoS should be based on the features available, setup costs, and compatibility with your current hardware.
In addition to integrating a PoS system, you may consider other integrations. These might be integrations with third-party delivery service providers such as Postmates, Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash.
For Can Tho, we integrated the Lightspeed PoS. It allows the system to process payments and calculate prices with taxes included. We also integrated Uber Eats and Deliveroo so customers can order from Can Tho using these marketplaces. Additionally, there’s a Xiaomi light bulb over every kiosk that lights up when a customer clicks the Get Help button. These lights allow wait staff to see who needs their help and react fast.
To process a sale, you’ll need a payment terminal. Your decision of payment terminal should depend on the type of payments you want to provide (contactless, EMV, magstripe), whether you want a wireless or standard terminal, and the terminal price.
When developing Can Tho, we chose a Valina terminal so we could meet the needs of the majority of customers: the Valina terminal allows for both card and contactless payments.
To customize the contents of your application and create new content, manage the menu, get insights into user behavior, and keep track of your business metrics without writing code, consider adding an admin dashboard. An admin dashboard is a necessity for a restaurant self-ordering kiosk system. You can include as many features as you need.
For Can Tho, we enabled the administrator to manage the menu, confirm orders, resolve returns, and set VAT and prices.
Choosing the technology stack for your self-ordering kiosk system
The technology stack is one of the most important things to consider when developing an application. When developing kiosk software, you should choose technologies for mobile and backend development, your server, and your database.
Your choice of technology for mobile development greatly depends on the hardware you select. Will your kiosks be iOS-powered or Android-powered? Lots of restaurants decide to go with Android, since Android tablets are cheaper and have bigger screens. Also, large touchscreen TVs run Android.
Additionally, you need to choose technologies for backend development. There are lots of backend programming languages available, so examine their benefits and limitations to choose the right one for your project. We suggest that you also use frameworks, since they provide handy tools to code faster and easier.
Your application will also need a database to store data, a caching system to increase the performance of your system and reduce the load on the database, and a server to process customers’ requests.
Here are the most commonly used technologies:
- Android: Kotlin, Java
- iOS: Swift
- Backend Python (Django, Flask), PHP (Laravel), Ruby (Ruby on Rails)
- Server: Nginx, Apache
- Database: MySQL, PostgreSQL
- Caching system: Redis, Memcached
The technology stack behind Can Tho
In the table below, you can find the technologies we used to build Can Tho.
Summing up: Lessons learned from building Can Tho
Self-service kiosk development can be quite challenging, yet a self-service kiosk can bring great value to your restaurant. Kiosks can shorten lines, reduce labor costs, and give you the potential to stay competitive in the fast-changing market.
To help you craft successful kiosk software, here are three tips based on what we’ve learned from Can Tho.
#1 Clearly define your target audience and their pain points to understand how your kiosks can create meaningful value.
#2 Your decisions on functionality, designs, and a payment terminal should depend on your target users and the core value your kiosks should provide.
#3 Test your app with real users and gather feedback. This will help you design an app that’s appealing and easy to interact with.