Self-checkout has fast become a popular method of paying at grocery stores and big box retail giants. Retailers love it because it reduces the number of cashiers they must hire and shoppers love it because it’s fast, especially if you just have one or two items. Now, many corporations have embraced the self-checkout concept for their on-site foodservice venues. Originally just for convenience outlet applications, self-checkout has become a valued method of payment in full-size cafeterias as well.
Small Kiosks and Convenience Store Applications
Self-checkout works extremely well for small kiosks and convenience store applications. The outlets are unstaffed and the employees purchase items on an honor system. It is usually located in a convenient spot for employees to access. Some companies have provided a special room, accessed only by a company ID card. Products are typically packaged foods and bottled/canned beverages that all have a bar code. The point-of-sale (POS) station has a bar code reader. The employee swipes his company ID card that has either a pre-loaded cash balance or is tied to an employee payroll deduct plan, or a credit/debit card to make his purchase. Then he passes each item under the bar code reader.
These locations also commonly have a security camera to record all transactions, or to record “abnormalities or unusual transactions,” thereby reducing the amount of tape recordings the security department has to review. In a corporate location, the risk of “shrinkage,” or theft, is low since it is a fairly controlled environment.
Different Technology for Different Applications
The kiosk concept has also expanded to full-size cafeterias, using various technologies. The program is very similar to the self-checkout stations in grocery stores. A scale is part of the POS station along with a “product lookup” feature. At the made-to-order stations, foodservice employees prepare and serve foods that are portioned onto plates. Instead of pre-packaged foods, there are no bar codes to read. This has led to the use of special systems, including but not limited to the following technologies.
There are systems that allow the employee to scan their ID badge on a convenient Pad device to order only, or order and pay using touch screen technology, and finally to receive their food item. Other systems use a printed card for each food item served. The employee takes a reusable card and uses it to check out, leaving the card behind for reuse by others. Still other applications include a partial order/delivery system for orders that will need to be prepared. The orders go to remote printers and order queue management screens at the appropriate station. The customer then selects a table in the dining area, and the system, using an RFID tracker, locates the customer and the foodservice employee will then deliver the order to the table.
Choices Tailored to Your Needs
The systems using 100% self-checkout cashiering are best in small to medium sized employee populations (up to 1,000). Larger cafeterias work smoothly with a “hybrid” system, incorporating both self-checkout stations and staffed cashier stations. Although employees can complete their purchase transactions quickly, heavy demand periods typically require this combination as the staffed cashier stations can process the customers even faster, helping to reduce wait times at checkout.
The systems can also be converted almost instantly from self-checkout to full-service if needed, and the opposite for slow periods, which can then operate at 100% self-checkout. Employees learn the process easily, and since their purchase is a small number of items, the time to check-out is very short. One or more foodservice employees can be present at the self-checkout station areas to assist with any problems. This is a good method to re-assign the employees who would normally be at the fully staffed cashier stations, thereby enhancing the guest experience.
Unique Features Abound
Unique features can be included such as a tie-in to the corporate wellness programs that reward employees for choosing healthy items since there is a full record of what each employee purchased. Other systems are linked with personal fitness apps that record foods chosen at home, restaurants, and the corporate cafeteria for total monitoring of consumption. A survey feature can be included, asking for comments from the customers, which again, is instantly transmitted to management for acceptance levels and also to correct any problems quickly.
Pros and Cons
As with any checkout method, there are pros and cons that the corporation must consider when deciding which application to use. One advantage is the “real time” recording of usage, allowing management to monitor inventory and increase production if one or more items are selling more than forecasted.
The costs of these systems are slightly higher than conventional POS systems, but with the permanent labor savings, the payback time is very short. The costs for both the conventional POS and self-checkout systems include the hardware, the license fee for the software, and annual upgrades.
One disadvantage may be introducing the system to workforces who may hesitate to embrace it. However, focus groups can be used, as well as floating foodservice employees, to help introduce the systems to the employees.
Another drawback may occur when adding this system to a full-size cafeteria with staffed cashier stations that are on a completely different accounting system than the self-checkout system, requiring reports to be combined to get complete results. Again, the bigger picture benefits outweigh this nuisance.
Self-checkout systems are widely popular and have many advantages that can benefit all parties.
By: Ted Farrand, FCSI, FMP
Director of Management Advisory Services (MAS) | Washington, DC