Business Resources - Food & Beverage - March 2018


At select Bowlero Corp. bowling centers, customers can order food and drinks and pay their bill from their bowling lane through new self-ordering kiosks. (Credit: BOWLERO CORP)

Bytes for Bites

FECs are embracing technology to transform the F&B experience

by Jodi Helmer

Instead of interrupting a game of bowling to hit the snack bar, guests at Main Event Entertainment can use a touchscreen tablet in their lane to order food and drinks. 

“Self-serve kiosks are everywhere from airports to fast-food and fast-casual restaurants,” explains Steve Klohn, chief information officer for Main Event Entertainment. “As we’ve evolved into a digital world, we needed to remain relevant.” 

Ordering via tabletop tablets and smartphone apps is on the rise. In 2017, research firm Market Force Information found that 55 percent of quick-service restaurant customers used a smartphone app or tablet at a table to place their orders in the past 90 days—a 39 percent jump from 2015. Of the 11,000 consumers surveyed, less than half said they prefer to order from someone at the counter, which is a more than 20 percent decrease from the 70 percent who reported they prefer to do so in 2015.

Klohn believes letting guests manage orders and payment improves the customer experience, noting, “It lets them go at their own pace.”

At Main Event Entertainment, the pace for adding the kiosks is brisk. The family entertainment center (FEC) company introduced tabletop ordering in three of its Dallas locations last June and plans to roll out the technology at the remaining 25 locations by March. 


Test the Market

Thanks to the growing popularity of self-ordering kiosks, countless companies offer the technology. While FECs could install kiosks to manage a range of transactions from purchasing tickets to managing tokens, food and beverage (F&B) dominates the market.

In Richmond, Virginia, Bowlero Corp. is testing new self-ordering kiosks in more than a dozen of its bowling centers, allowing customers to order food and drinks and pay their bill from tablet-equipped lanes.

Chuck E. Cheese’s added F&B ordering to the gaming ticket kiosks at 35 locations in January 2017. Mahesh Sadarangani, senior vice president of strategic initiatives for CEC Entertainment, believes the technology will enhance the ordering process for guests and improve operational efficiencies, reducing labor costs for the FEC company. 

Before rolling the kiosks out system-wide, test locations in cities like Nashville, San Antonio, and Houston will allow the FEC company to gauge guest acceptance and usage. So far, reactions have been positive. 

“After we first launched, we brought in extra staff to introduce guests to the kiosks, but we found that guests were already familiar with the technology and wanted to use them to place their orders,” Sadarangani says. 

Currently, the kiosks at Chuck E. Cheese’s do not allow customers to pay with cash or use coupons or gift cards—these functionalities are expected to be rolled out this year—and Sadarangani anticipates the number of kiosk transactions will then be even higher.


At Chuck E. Cheese's remodeled Stone Oak San Antonio location, Chuck E. performs his live show every hour on a new, light-up dance floor with screens above and around the stage. (Credit: CHUCK E. CHEESE'S

Main Event Entertainment also expects to see increasing numbers of transactions via its tabletop systems. In the meantime, the FEC company opted for a gradual rollout, limiting the launch menu to alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, appetizers, and popular entrees such as pizza and burgers.

The decision not to make the entire menu available during the beta phase stemmed from a desire to introduce the technology and test the market as quickly as possible: Waiting for all of the menu items to be photographed and loaded into the software would have delayed the launch by several months. Using photos can be important, given a Software Advice survey found 26 percent of respondents cited viewing photos of menu items as one of their favorite aspects of self-ordering systems. Therefore, Main Event Entertainment adds new dishes—with photos—to the menu each week.

“It takes a large effort to get it done,” Klohn says.

Order Up Success

Research shows the investment of time and capital it takes for F&B operations to launch self-serve kiosks pays off. In 2015, Taco Bell saw its sales jump 20 percent for orders placed through its app (compared to counter orders placed with cashiers). Panera Bread receives 1.2 million digital orders per week via mobile and web devices and in-store kiosks; the company’s $1 billion in annual sales through the platforms could double in 2019, the company estimates

Klohn believes it’s too soon to tell whether the tabletop kiosks have increased F&B revenues after just a few months in three locations, but notes, “So far, it’s doing well with appetizers, limited entrees, and alcohol reorders, and we’re seeing a lot of great feedback.”

Based on the data CEC Entertainment has collected from its 35 test sites, the kiosks are a hit. Transactions climbed from 3 to 4 percent of F&B revenues after the kiosks were introduced to 10 percent of total transactions just eight months later.

“The automatic intercepts and upsells are fantastic, [and] the average guest check is slightly higher through the kiosks compared with counter sales,” says Sadarangani. 

With a minimum of two kiosks in each test location plus counter service, Sadarangani believes customers are taking more time to study the menus and are more apt to order custom (and costlier) items, including specialty pizza crusts or additional toppings.

Integrating multiple payment options into the technology may also help with adoption. The Market Force Information report found 31 percent of customers recently used technology such as mobile apps or digital wallets to pay for their quick-service restaurant meals; the Software Advice survey reported that 39 percent of respondents appreciated the ability to split their bills, while 31 percent liked the option to use multiple payment types.

Find the Right Fit

Despite the successes, self-ordering systems may not be widely adopted among smaller parks, bowling centers, and FECs, especially those without an information technology (IT) team to support the technology.

“The technology only gets you so far; even with great tech support from the vendor, it still requires a lot of planning and understanding to get it up and running and make it an extension of your brand,” Sadarangani says. “A small company may struggle.”

CEC Entertainment spent four months creating the graphical user interface behind its self-ordering system and countless hours analyzing data from test sites to determine best practices for introducing the kiosks in additional locations.

Sadarangani says, “It takes a lot of programming and development and learning” to launch the self-ordering systems.

The effort, Klohn believes, is worth it. The self-ordering terminals have streamlined F&B operations at Main Event Entertainment locations and improved the guest experience. Moreover, the technology represents a brand commitment to meeting customer expectations.

“We want to give our guests the options and opportunities to use technology here just like they can with their other favorite brands,” Klohn says.

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based journalist who covers operational topics in the attractions industry for Funworld.