“Will touchscreen innovation gain a true foothold in the fast food industry, shortening drive-thru waits and making restaurants more efficient?”
Touchscreen innovations can create interesting opportunities for the fast-food industry. As with all technology, there are times when it can be extremely helpful and times when it can be immensely frustrating. This will represent that same user experience model.
Certainly, there are benefits as customers who know exactly what they want can quickly order and then move about the restaurant. If there are long lines, customers can efficiently order and go about other activities. It can certainly reduce frustration and give users increased control. At some restaurants, the ability to customize (select and configure from all of the available options) can be simpler to do while viewing the screen at your own pace versus the pressure faced when at the counter with everyone waiting “not so patiently” behind you.
However, for some subset (minority or majority) of customers, this will be far more frustrating or ineffective. Fundamentally, as orders can need some unique customization or preparation notes (e.g. food allergies or other ingredient modifications), the touchscreen might not accommodate those requests. For some customers, the interface can just be too confusing. Realistically, we all need to accept that the devices may not work (e.g. broken screen, bad software, transaction stuck), requiring other customer service-focused interactions to remain.
This technology can’t be an all or nothing situation, but instead, it must be an option provided for customers. This is a choice accommodating customer preferences, not a requirement. It should be offered to add efficiency for the restaurant but not be implemented to reduce the human interaction expectation.
This technology works for in-store where there is time and the ideal conditions to interface with a screen. This won’t transact well to a drive-thru environment as it could be challenging accessing screens given car heights, how close users get their car to the screen, weather (e.g., snow covered or sun glare), and lastly, the pressure of fiddling with a screen to determine how to interact while there is a long line of drivers behind you. That can create a highly frustrating solution that could cause users to abandon the restaurant altogether.
Overall, screen technology will be more commonplace and helpful. It should be used when and where it benefits, and the customer service-focused human interaction will be used when users desire it. It is finding the happy medium so customers have their Happy Meal.