Texas Dairy Queen franchisee pioneers self-order kiosk

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Original Article

A Dairy Queen employee assists a guest in placing an order. Photo courtesy of Panasonic.

With technology companies working to meet the demand for restaurant self-order kiosks, proactive restaurateurs have an opportunity to take a pioneering role in bringing new technology to the market.

Michael Clarke, a Texas Dairy Queen franchisee, recently became the chain’s first franchisee to introduce self-order kiosks and has boosted tickets into the high double-digits, he said. Clarke’s story demonstrates how franchisees can achieve success by working with a provider to introduce new technology. 

Clarke, owner Lickety Split Food Services, a franchisee in the greater Fort Worth, Texas market, said the kiosks increased the average order by 35-40%, improved customer satisfaction and enhanced the overall dining experience. The technology also improved employee job satisfaction and had no impact on hours worked as team members were reassigned to higher value customer service functions, he said.

A progressive franchisee

To be sure, Clarke is not your typical QSR franchisee.

With 15 years experience at McDonald’s in western Canada and 20 years of executive leadership in the non-profit sector, Clarke broke every sales record in Dairy Queen’s more than 70 years in business when he opened his first franchise unit with the brand in 2013.

“We were the busiest Dairy Queen in the world,” he said. That same year he opened a second restaurant which broke the first restaurant’s record, and within a 40-month period, he opened nine units. Dairy Queen had not been active in the Fort Worth area for some time. 

“People have really enjoyed getting their Dairy Queen back in the greater Fort Worth area,” he said. “The response has just been fantastic.”

It wasn’t long before Clarke noticed competitors installing self-order kiosks. As a new Dairy Queen franchisee, he was already using digital menu boards and the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, a self-serve fountain beverage dispenser. He said he saw the importance of technology in the QSR industry and the increasing consumer acceptance of self service.

Panasonic System Solutions Co. of North America, meanwhile, was working on a self-service restaurant kiosk. Panasonic was aware of Clarke’s success and thought he would be a good person to provide feedback on the system under development, so they approached him about working on a pilot test. Clarke believed the customers he served in Tarrant County would be receptive to kiosks, so he agreed to test the Panasonic technology.

The test begins

Clarke tested a Panasonic countertop kiosk for one year, beginning in November 2017, in two restaurants. 

“We were the first ones in the Dairy Queen system, nationally and internationally, to put in kiosks,” he said.

The two restaurants had different daypart volumes and different levels of drive-through versus dine-in traffic, Clarke said.

“We really wanted to get as diverse as we could within our own small company,” he said.

POS integration 

Integrating the POS with the kiosk was challenging.

“Everything from the mapping of the data, to the kiosk, to our POS system, to the images and the interface, the menu sequencing that has to be done ā€” we didn’t have a template,” Clarke said. 

Clarke’s director of operations, Tim Phy, worked with the Panasonic team on the POS integration.

“There were literally months of work before we ever set one on the counter,” he said.

Achieving an intuitive user interface was also a challenge.

“It’s a seamless process now,” Clarke said. “It maps directly to our financial recap, it maps directly to our product mix.”

Staff responsibilities change

The team placed a countertop kiosk next to one of four cash registers in each of the two restaurants. The employees assisted the guests in using the kiosks in addition to other duties, such as working the cash registers, greeting customers, and taking and delivering orders.

The team paid careful attention to how customers used the kiosks. Based on their observations, they highlighted popular combos and Blizzards on the kiosk touchscreen. They also made the 20 items that comprise 80% of the sales the easiest products to find.

The kiosks only accepted credit and debit card payment. Clarke pointed out that 76% of the sales are paid for electronically.

When the guest selects a sandwich, the kiosk automatically offers a choice of condiments.

“The functions that were typically done as an art form of suggestive selling by the cashier are now the customer’s choices,” he said.

Customers had different preferences for placing orders, he said. Some people went right to the kiosk and placed orders. 

“How you want to place our order is to me now a customer choice,” he said.

More guests nowadays want to be able to order at their own pace and browse through the menu and order exactly what they want, he said. 

“When they have the time to customize their own order, their spend grows,” Clarke said.

Customers are able to select and place their order in less than a minute at the kiosk, although some guests spend several minutes browsing and customizing their order. The wait time for dine-in guests is usually two to three minutes after the order is placed.

Clarke set a goal of 5% of dine-in transactions from kiosks, and both test locations slightly exceeded the goal, consistently.

Clarke did not think having the kiosks on the countertop used the technology to its fullest. Hence, he welcomed the opportunity to place freestanding kiosks near the stores’ front entrances.

Part 2 of this two-part series will explore Clarke’s companywide kiosk rollout.