Popeyes' self-ordering kiosks serve up efficiency

Customers placing their orders at self-ordering kiosks at Popeyes' Punggol East outlet. These kiosks have halved the time taken to place an order, leading to more efficient service and an increase in sales. The fried chicken chain intends to extend t
Customers placing their orders at self-ordering kiosks at Popeyes' Punggol East outlet. These kiosks have halved the time taken to place an order, leading to more efficient service and an increase in sales. The fried chicken chain intends to extend this initiative to all its outlets.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Fast-food chain adapts to labour crunch by replacing cashiers with machines

Facing a shortage of cashiers, more fast-food chains are using machines to take customers' orders, with fried chicken chain Popeyes the latest to come on board.

At its Punggol East outlet, customers must place their orders at one of three kiosks, collect a receipt and exchange it for their food from counter staff. The outlet has not had any cash registers since it started testing the kiosks on Oct 15 last year. They were officially launched yesterday.

Popeyes joins fast-food rivals Yoshinoya, McDonald's and BurgerUp in adopting self-ordering kiosks.

"We used to have three cash registers at the outlet, but we were able to hire only up to two people to man them due to the tight labour market," said Mr Dickson Low, Popeyes Singapore's group chief operating officer, yesterday. "This led to long queues and frustrated customers."

With the kiosks, the time taken to place an order has been halved to one minute per customer, and orders can also be customised easily.

The kiosks accept payment via credit cards, Nets and ez-link. Customers who pay by cash must hand it to staff upon collecting their orders.

The more efficient service, especially during mealtimes, has led to a 10 per cent to 15 per cent increase in sales.

Popeyes has also replaced cashiers with the kiosks at its outlets at the IMM Building in Jurong and 313@Somerset in Orchard Road.

It intends to extend the initiative to the rest of its 16 outlets.

Mr Low said this does not mean his cashiers will be out of jobs. They have been redeployed as "service ambassadors" who greet customers, encourage them to return trays and even deliver orders to them.

Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck, who attended the launch, commended Popeyes for making the "sometimes difficult and painful, but necessary" change.

According to enterprise agency Spring Singapore, about 1,000 food and beverage outlets have adopted manpower-lean measures since 2011, when the Food Services Productivity Plan was launched.

These include using mobile applications, self-service kiosks and tablets to take orders.

McDonald's now has self-ordering kiosks at 25 outlets after introducing its first one in 2014. But unlike at Popeyes' revamped outlets, customers at McDonald's also have the option of placing their orders with staff cashiers.

McDonald's Singapore director of technology Tan Min Hui said: "We'll continue to introduce self-ordering kiosks to more restaurants as well as leverage technology to offer our customers an even better dining experience."

Subway Singapore is exploring the feasibility of using such kiosks.

Country director Raphael Chan said: "The sales generated (have to be) sufficient to pay back the investment, with subsidies, of the kiosks before the shop's lease expires."

Secondary 2 student Eunice Yap, 14, who ate at Popeyes' Punggol East outlet yesterday, prefers the self-ordering kiosks to cashiers as they eliminate the likelihood of miscommunication.

"Sometimes cashiers cannot hear my order properly, and end up serving me the wrong order," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Popeyes' self-ordering kiosks serve up efficiency'. Print Edition | Subscribe