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Self Service Restaurant: What It Is & How To Start


Are you wondering what a self service restaurant is and how to start implementing self service in your dining establishment? 

In this guide, we’ll explore the concept and provide valuable insights for restaurant owners looking to explore this innovative dining trend.

self service restaurant - self service kiosks

What is a self service restaurant?

A self-service restaurant is where customers typically order and collect their food and beverages rather than being served by waitstaff. Customers may choose their menu items from a displayed menu or buffet, pay at a counter, and then find seating to enjoy their meal.

Self-service technologies can assist customers in completing various aspects of the dining experience, from browsing the menu via a QR code placed on the table to paying for their meal contactless.

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Allow customers to order and pay directly from their table to enhance customer service and boost the average order value

Self ordering kiosks are the most popular example of self-service technology in restaurants. However, placing an order online using a restaurant mobile app, the restaurant website, or contactless payments is also classified as self service technology.

It’s worth mentioning that most establishments incorporating self service features fall into categories such as fast food restaurants, quick service restaurants (QSRs), or fast casual restaurants.

self service restaurant - self service kiosks

What are the benefits of self service restaurants?

Self-service restaurants offer several benefits. Below we listed and described them briefly. 

1. Increased efficiency

In the restaurant industry, customer satisfaction and loyalty hinge on operational efficiency. 

Self-service technology, exemplified by self-serve kiosks, QR code menus, and mobile apps, revolutionizes the dining experience by allowing customers to place orders quickly. This significantly reduces wait times and enhances the restaurant service speed and operational efficiency.

self service restaurant - qr code menu

2. Reduced labor costs

Implementing self-service technology can reduce restaurant owners’ labor costs, minimizing the need for extensive front-of-house staff. 

With self-service kiosks and digital ordering systems handling customer orders, restaurants can reduce reliance on human labor and mitigate the risk of human error in taking orders. This integration of technology is a crucial aspect of restaurant digital transformation, enhancing efficiency and accuracy in the ordering process.

Consequently, restaurant staff members can be allocated to other areas of operation, optimizing resource allocation and potentially reducing overall staffing expenses.

3. Improved accuracy

Self-service technology significantly improves order accuracy by allowing customers to input their orders themselves, whether directly in the restaurant or through a restaurant mobile app or online ordering system. 

The risk of human error is greatly reduced by bypassing the need for human intervention in the ordering process. Customers have the autonomy to ensure the accuracy of their orders, resulting in fewer mistakes and greater satisfaction with their dining experience.

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4. Increased sales

Self-service technology in restaurants can increase sales through up-selling and cross-selling opportunities. When customers order using technology, they often feel less pressured and are more open to exploring additional menu items, thus boosting sales. 

For instance, self-service kiosks can guide customers through suggested add-ons or upgrades, such as upgrading to a larger size or adding extra toppings to their meals. 

Similarly, mobile apps or online ordering systems can present cross-sell suggestions, like pairing a sandwich with a side salad or offering a dessert add-on at checkout, maximizing sales opportunities.

5. Enhanced customer experience

Self-service technology enhances the customer experience by providing convenience, customization, and control. Customers who place orders quickly and accurately experience shorter wait times and greater satisfaction. 

Additionally, self-service options allow personalized ordering preferences, such as selecting specific ingredients or dietary accommodations, further enhancing the dining experience to meet individual needs and preferences. 

self service restaurant - self service kiosks

Examples of self service technology used in restaurants

1. QR code menus

QR code menus in restaurants exemplify self-service by offering customers a convenient and contactless way to access menu information. Placed on tables, posters, or restaurant windows and walls, QR codes allow customers to scan with their smartphones to view the menu simply, place orders, and make payments. 

You can use a QR code menu builder to make and share your digital restaurant menu in just a few minutes.  

2. Mobile apps

Another example of self service technology is a restaurant mobile app. It lets customers browse the menu, place orders, and pay directly from their smartphones. 

With UpMenu, you can create and customize your branded app. Your new app will provide seamless and efficient ordering, simplifying the process for our customers and expediting order placement.

Mobile Apps
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What’s more, the app includes a wide range of marketing options, such as discounts, promotions, and a restaurant loyalty program, to help you promote your restaurant among customers.

3. Self service kiosks

A self service kiosk is a standalone interactive terminal that allows users to perform various tasks or transactions without human assistance. These kiosks typically have touchscreens, input devices like keyboards or barcode scanners, and sometimes printers or other output mechanisms. 

Self-service kiosks represent a significant advancement in restaurant technology, offering customers a seamless and efficient dining experience. Customers benefit from the convenience of browsing menus, customizing orders, and paying at their own pace, reducing wait times and enhancing order accuracy. 

Restaurants benefit from enhanced order throughput, streamlined operations, and the potential for increased revenue through self-service kiosks. These kiosks present valuable cross-sell opportunities and facilitate the promotion of a restaurant loyalty program.

self service restaurant - self service kiosks

4. Online ordering systems

Another example of self-service technology is an online ordering system. It lets customers place orders remotely through a website or a mobile app, allowing them to browse menus, customize their orders, and schedule pickups or deliveries at their convenience. 

This enhances customer satisfaction by providing a seamless ordering experience and boosts restaurant efficiency by reducing the strain on in-house staff and streamlining the order fulfillment process. 

UpMenu is an example of a commission-free online food ordering system tailored for restaurants that empowers customers to conveniently place online orders for delivery or pickup directly from the restaurant’s website.

5. Contactless payments

Contactless payments represent a cutting-edge restaurant technology that offers both customers and businesses numerous advantages. 

Customers can swiftly complete transactions without physically touching the payment terminal, enhancing convenience and safety. 

For restaurants, implementing contactless payment terminals streamlines the checkout process, reduces transaction times, and minimizes the need for handling physical cash, contributing to improved operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

self service restaurant - contactless payments

6. Tableside ordering

Tableside ordering introduces a modern dining experience, revolutionizing how guests interact with your restaurant. It enables customers to conveniently order and pay from their tables using their mobile devices, eliminating the need for waiting in lines. 

By seamlessly integrating technology into the dining process, restaurants can enhance customer satisfaction through quicker service, minimized wait times, and increased table turnover.

Key Takeaways

  • Implementing self-service technologies like QR code menus, mobile apps, and self-service kiosks streamlines the ordering process, leading to faster service and improved operational efficiency.
  • Self-service restaurants can significantly reduce labor costs by automating tasks traditionally performed by staff, such as order taking and payment processing.
  • Using self-service technologies minimizes the potential for human error in order processing, resulting in more accurate orders and reducing instances of mistakes or misunderstandings.
  • Self-service options provide opportunities for upselling and promoting additional menu items.
  • Self-service technologies offer customers greater convenience, flexibility, and control over their dining experience.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The number of times customers may use the same plates at a self-service buffet depends on the restaurant’s policies and hygiene standards. At a self-service buffet, customers can reuse the same plate as often as they like. However, generally, customers are expected to use a clean plate each time they return to the buffet to minimize the risk of cross-contamination and maintain hygiene.

The frequency of plate reuse at a self-service buffet varies based on the restaurant’s regulations and cleanliness guidelines. While customers are typically allowed to reuse plates as they please, it’s common practice for customers to obtain a fresh plate with each visit to the buffet to uphold sanitation standards and prevent potential cross-contamination. 

The service style that involves a customer taking food away from a food service outlet is known as “takeout” or “grab-and-go” service.

The type of restaurant that is self-serve and typically offers “all you can eat” for one price is known as a “buffet restaurant”.

Self-serve ordering involves customers independently placing their orders, often through various methods such as a kiosk, online ordering system, or scanning QR code menu with their smartphones. This approach empowers customers to customize their orders, select preferences, and complete transactions autonomously.

While self-service in restaurants offers benefits such as efficiency and customization, it also has drawbacks. These can include:

  • Reduced personal interaction: Self-service may diminish the opportunity for face-to-face interaction with staff, which can impact the overall dining experience for some customers.
  • Technical issues: Malfunctions with self-service kiosks or other self service technology used by restaurants may be causing delays in the ordering process or frustration for customers and staff.
  • Limited assistance: Customers who require assistance or have special requests may find self-service systems less accommodating than traditional service with waitstaff.
  • Security concerns: Self-service technology may raise privacy and security concerns for customers, particularly regarding protecting personal information and financial data.
Picture of Agata Kubiak - Padkowska

Agata Kubiak - Padkowska

Digital content creator, passionate about helping restaurants to start selling online.

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