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This is the next big restaurant trend

How kiosks have taken over the industry


Welcome to First Bite, a Nation’s Restaurant News podcast, your daily source of news from NRN hosted by Holly Petre.

Today, we’re talking about kiosks.

McDonald’s first started testing self-service kiosks in 2003 – an ice age ago in tech terms. But it took quite some time for the technology to prove its return. In fact, the McDonald’s U.S. system didn’t implement kiosks systemwide until 2020.

Taco Bell also pressed the gas on kiosks in 2020 and even introduced a kiosk-only Cantina model last year. The technology is expected to play a big role as the chain works toward its 50% digital sales mix goal. Panera was a few years ahead on kiosk integration, and has since made them a focal point of its new digital-only formats.

With heavyweights like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Panera proving the value of self-order kiosks, the slow trickle that began in 2003 seems to be accelerating into a steady stream at larger chains. This is evidenced from the past few rounds of earnings calls, including Shake Shack’s Q3 call Thursday, in which CFO Katie Fogerty said kiosks are the chain’s most profitable channel, yielding higher check sizes, higher margins and better labor utilization.  

That labor utilization piece is particularly critical now, as the industry remains about 500,000 employees short of pre-pandemic numbers.

Learn more from senior editor Alicia Kelso.

Plus, catch up on all the top news of the day with our daily news recap at the beginning of each episode.

Be sure to subscribe to First Bite wherever you get your podcasts or on Spotify, or Apple Podcasts.

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