Emerging chains go all-in on kiosks

The kiosk movement comes at a time when the IT department at a restaurant company is becoming equally as crucial as menu development or operations.

That’s especially true for startups. Many are designing restaurants around tech instead of treating them as digital accessories.

Take Square Roots Kitchen in Chicago.

The year-old 1,600-square foot startup is outfitted with five, 32-inch wall mounted touchscreen tablets. There are no cashiers.

Founder Derin Alemli said his business model calls for marrying technology with a simplified back-of-the-house meal assembly system that requires fewer employees.

“We’re a tech-enabled restaurant,” said Alemli, a self-described serial entrepreneur with an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Spyce opened this year with five touchscreen kiosks.

Alemli, 33, initially launched Square Roots Kitchen in 2015 as a ghost restaurant, with no storefront, focused only on catering. He leveraged catering apps such as ZeroCater and Fooda to promote Square Roots Kitchen’s healthy menu of salads, wraps and bowls. After proving the concept, he opened the first brick-and-mortar restaurant last year in downtown Chicago near a Whole Foods Market.

The Square Roots Kitchen touchscreen tablets display large size fonts and eye-popping food images, making it easy and enticing for customers to build their meals.

“We knew we wanted to go big and bold. There’s no ambiguity,” Alemi said.

After ordering, guests can watch their food being prepared by a food assembler standing behind a glass partition. A typical order is ready in under 90 seconds.

On a drizzly Friday in May, several 20-something customers walked in wearing headphones and gym clothes. One mother rocked her baby in a stroller while entering her order with her other hand. Each guest approached the kiosk without fear, walking away with a to-go order within a few minutes. They talked to no one even though Alemli was standing nearby ready to assist anyone in need.

And, that’s the goal: Convenience, speed and personalization without sacrificing food quality.  Alemi is happy with the results. He said roughly 90 percent of the restaurant’s revenue comes from returning customers.

In Pasadena, Calif., CaliBurger is piloting a state-of-the art kiosk system that’s earned the emerging brand national buzz.

CaliBurger is piloting a state-of-the-art kiosk system with face recognition technology.

The Southern California location, among 10 domestic CaliBurgers, recently added face recognition technology to its two in-store kiosks. Like an iPhone X, the kiosk scans your face to unlock your profile. Profiles, or facial fingerprints, are created after the first visit.

Once a guest is recognized, he or she can create a new burger order, or reorder one of three past meals displayed onscreen. When done, the monitor prompts guests to “Pay by Face” with a credit card tied to their account. No swiping is needed after registering for the first time, unless a guest wants to use a different form of payment.

Ultimately, it takes four clicks to order and pay for food, said Yale Goldberg, vice president of business development at Pop IQ, the facial recognition software developer.

“We want it to be as seamless as possible,” Goldberg said.

Pop IQ is owned by Pasadena, Calif.-based Cali Group, the same parent company of CaliBurger.

With the kinks worked out in Pasadena, CaliBurger — also home to an experimental burger-flipping robot — plans to roll out the facial recognition technology to five other U.S. restaurants within the next two weeks.

More locations will soon follow in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe and the Middle East.

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