Fast food industry getting futuristic with self-order kiosks

McDonald's has revamped its food ordering service with self-service kiosks, triggering a wave in the fast food industry and paving the way to unmanned restaurants.

“McDonald’s launching of self-ordering kiosks in Hong Kong pushes the local food industry to change their traditional way of service. Also, it helps the self-ordering kiosk market emerge,” said Hans Paul, co-founder of Aigens, a kiosks supplier.

“It’s really a prevailing trend in the food industry, especially for fast-food restaurants. Basically, each restaurant has around two stations,” Paul added.

Self-order kiosks in MacDonald's HK

The fast-food behemoth McDonald’s plans to expand its self-serve ordering kiosks which covered two stores in Hong Kong in 2015 to more than 100 local stores within three years.

The appearance of self-service order kiosks helps tackle the high labour cost issue, one of the so-called “3H” problems -- high rent, high labour cost, and high material cost -- which have long been major challenges for Hong Kong restaurants.

Self-order kiosks in MacDonald's HK

As the market enlarged, the company recorded an over 60-80 percent annual growth in sales for the past few years. Its revenue mainly comes from the continuous subscription fee to maintain a kiosk and software, ranging from HK$40,000 to HK$50,000 per station.

Cooperating with Maxim’s Group, a local fast-food restaurant chain, Aigens dominates the Hong Kong market with more than 300 self-serve ordering system installed. The company has a market share of about 70 percent excluding McDonald’s since it has its own system.

“The self-service ordering kiosks closely follow the development of electronic platforms. Unmanned restaurants could come true because payment is the final step of an ordering process and a kiosk or a smartphone could achieve that,” Paul said.

The rapid development of the Internet in Mainland China has seen it moving fast in self-ordering service. Tech giant Alibaba has set up its own platform Koubei, which has co-operated with up to 1.6 million restaurants, allowing users to make their orders at home and complete payment online. Koubei is the first e-commerce platform, leading the way of the unmanned restaurant in China,

As the rise of intelligent self-serve machines, the question is will human labour force be replaced by AI arises?

Nearly 70% of positions like cashiers, restaurant cooks in the food industry can be automated but smart brands will opt for a combination of intelligent machines and manpower to provide better services for customers, according to a joint research conducted by the Nikkei and the Financial Times in 2017.

A spokesman for McDonald’s Hong Kong explained, "Self-order kiosks are not intended to reduce the number of staff in our restaurants. On the contrary, more staffs have been recruited to meet the needs of business development, such as helping customers use an intelligent machine to place orders."

Unmanned restaurant in China

Paul also said, “I don’t think the self-service ordering kiosks will take the place of human beings, it just changes the roles of workers and helps restaurants to redistribute the workforces more rationally and effectively. For example, cashiers no need to serve customers in the front can do packing up food at the back.”

A fully automated restaurant did not mean workers would be completely wiped out, he said. Instead, because of the improvement in efficiency, the restaurant, in fact, could serve more customers. The higher capacity may even lead to more staff in a restaurant. Meanwhile, people, especially the elderlies, may need extra help to use the ordering machine.

“It is hard to predict the future, what can be seen is that self-ordering kiosk is coming to change the food industry as well as people’s livelihood,” said Paul.


《The Young Financial Post 新報人財經》



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