The state of fast food self ordering

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When I moved to California in 2015, I was both excited and frustrated to see self order kiosks at Jack in the Box. Excited, because self-ordering as a non-interpersonal experience was something I’d been thinking about for a while, and frustrated because these kiosks were always off / out of service. Reduced operating costs and increased order accuracy seemed like some key selling points for such a setup, and the latter was very appealing to me, as someone who rarely orders food with out removing or substituting some topping. I was out there for a year and a half and never saw one of the kiosks turned on.

Fast forward to today, 2020, and we’ve had self ordering kiosks and apps for a while now. I have used Taco Bell’s kiosk a number of times, and generally liked the experience. It’s funny, the folks assembling orders still get my stuff wrong a lot, but I don’t stress about it as much as when I order with a human. I think the real value I’ve found in it is that I don’t feel pressured to decide my order quickly like I do when a cashier is staring at me as I scan the menu. A side product of that along with a more compartmentalized Information Architecture is that it’s easier for me to discover new menu items.

I don’t go to McDonald’s often, but when I do, I’ve enjoyed using their Kiosk. I went last weekend and was reflecting on the UX of the thing and the bigger service design that that kiosk fits into. A couple of observations / thoughts:

  • It’s weird that as touch screen kiosks become more common, they are getting larger, but we’re still using UI paradigms from the small screen world. ie: the “next” and “back” navigation buttons are at the bottom of the screen which is out of my field of attention, especially when items and status messages still appear at the top. It took me a second to realize what I needed to do next.
  • Physical product human factors are now more into play than they have been in the past. The kiosk works ok for me as a 5’11” person (with the caveat of the point above) but how does it work for a 4′ person.. or a 6’7″ person? At Taco Bell, the kiosk screen seems low for me, and the card reader is positioned strangely for someone of my height.
  • Where does the kiosk interaction fit in the larger experience? McDonalds has tied the digital to the physical with “table tents”. The UI asks you to grab a numbered tent, and enter it’s number.  The server then uses that to find you to deliver your food. Taco Bell just calls out your number for you to retrieve the food yourself. I think it’s a nice touch on the part of McDonalds, but I wonder if the staff who deliver the food get any special training in hospitality. Should they?
  • There are a lot of opportunities to improve or change the larger experience. I think the biggest one is the handling of drinks. Both of these restaurants already do self-serve beverages, but under the kiosk ordering model, you don’t get your cup until your food is delivered. This is kind of a gap from the perspective of the traditional way of ordering where you get the cup as soon as you pay which gives you something to do / enjoy while you wait for the food.  In an even broader context, we can reconsider what the fast food experience is, which could lead to differentiation strategies. I was always fascinated by the strange niche carved out by Steak N Shake – it’s fast(ish) food, but you sit down and have table service. The floundering of that business may be a sign that their model isn’t all that desirable, but maybe there are still desirable elements to it. McDonald’s kiosk + table delivery model gets into that. I appreciate not having to get up to go get my order. Do I need an actual waiter to visit me more than once? probably not. ..or maybe? It would be cool if someone came around offering napkins, condiments, or drink refills occasionally. Similarly, the breadstick person at Fazoli’s was always a motivator for my visits there.

It’ll be interesting to see where fast food goes from here. We’re seeing more trends towards carry out only restaurants (or are those now “food preparers”?) which I suspect will generate a lot of convergence with alternative ordering methods. This will also likely come into play with food delivery, an industry vertical that is showing a lot of demand, but no one has yet managed to do in a scalable, satisfying way.

 

Style guides

This is surely something from the boring side of design, but I figured it was worth throwing up here.

As a part of my thesis work I’ve come to a point where it seems prudent to develop a style guide. I’ve done one of these once before for a student data management web app, but it was a pretty low impact affair. The one I’m doing now is a little more robust, and kind of spans the two different types of style guides that I’m aware of – Brand and Layout.

Both of these have some bleed into each other, but I think each is important for it’s own reason. For my project I’m doing a slight re-branding, something that the company hasn’t really thought about for 40 years. This is particularly important because the company doesn’t have a mission statement, and their existing brand is a little watered down by a non-specific name and failure to adapt the brand when the core product/service changed.

Among some of the other resources I used to try and figure out what should go in here was this article which provides links to several corporate brand guides that I thought were pretty useful.
20 Inspiring Brand Guides

From this, the key elements that I’m including in the brand guide are:

brand values
a new logo and usage guide
colorway and usage guide
type faces

Layout is another very important part of my thesis, as I will be designing a website, interactive touch screen displays and in-store signage. In fact, these needs are really the impetus for taking on a style guide, as it should make it quicker to churn these out with consistency. This is also a little bit of a headache, as I’d originally hoped that I would be playing the role of designer in a strict way for these parts – with output being hi fidelity photoshop/illustrator mockups. This would have freed up _a lot_ of my time, but my committee, probably rightly so, requested that I actually build out functional stuff. What this means for a layout oriented style guide is that it’s going to be more of a CSS pattern library. Here’s an article I found that was a pretty good example. Creating Style Guides.  I would love to find something that’s a little more verbose as far as a bullet list of elements I need, but this is highly dependent on the project I suppose so it might be a tall order.

So far here are the sections I’m working with:

web site (incl component CSS patterns)
touch screen
signage

Anyway, I had better get back to it. Just wanted to post those links because I thought they were useful.

Some things I learned about Campagnolo ergopower shifters..

campy[Updated: 1/2020 – I realized that the reference links at the end were all dead, so I updated them to go to the archive.org versions. I don’t know if this info is still useful to anyone, but this page consistently gets more hits than anything else on my blog.]

I have to admit that I can be pretty frugal when it comes to bike parts. A part of me likes the challenge of building something on a limited budget, and another part of me just can’t believe some things are as expensive as they are.

In my most recent attempts at a cheap build on my CX bike, I went with a Campagnolo setup as I got a wheelset and complete drivertrain sans shifters for $75. I bought a pair of mirage 8 speed shifters off of ebay without really understanding what I was getting into. Turns out, they were pretty gummy and the left one couldn’t pull the derailleur into position. Initially, I didn’t think that these were the “ergopower” levers since they were so old, and I assumed that they weren’t rebuildable. Turns out, ergopower goes back to ’92, including mine. Good news, right? Well.. kind of.

My shifters were of the first generation of ergopower, given away by the pointy hoods. (as opposed to the later, and current, rounded ones) Apparently some people consider this second generation, as the original ones had metal bodies, and these had “carbon”. I don’t know what actual Campy cannon is, because they rarely label anything, a major problem in the whole process of working on old stuff. Regardless, first generation (metal bodied or not) don’t have replacement parts available.

Not that I even knew what parts I needed. It seems like it’s mostly a mystery except to the few big shops who do tons of rebuilds. Some folks in my local club and online pointed me in the right direction though. Apparently, the “g-springs” should be changed every 10k miles, and are a common culprit for problems, and the “carrier” that the springs go in can also be cracked and problematic. I was told that modern g-springs will work in first generation shifters if you put them in backwards. The springs come in sets of 4 (per side) for about $15. So I was looking at $30 + $25 for new hoods to fix my $40 ebay levers, and I wasn’t even sure if they would work.

I gave up. I thought about switching to a shimano setup, or maybe going 1×8 (cringe), or 1×10, but the cost would have been significant. Fortunately, the manager at the shop I work at happened to have a set of broken, but good shifting chorus 8 speed, first gen shifters. One of the bodies had cracked where the lever pin attaches. I used these, and swapped one of my mirage bodies for the broken chorus one. With the help of a Campy rebuild video on youtube, I was able to get the lever apart and back together pretty easily. The video was for a 10 speed, modern lever, and had a few differences, like the return spring on top, and the posted, plastic carrier, but it was still pretty easy to follow. The only tricky thing is that bolt that holds the whole mechanism together is left hand thread on the right lever of the first generation.

In general, this experience makes me feel even more non committal towards Campagnolo products. They certainly have some good things going for them, like the ease of rebuildability, and the ability to upgrade 9 speed levers to 10. Unfortunately the scarcity of parts and information for them, at least in my geography, makes them a huge pain.

To do my part, here are a list of links that I’ve found useful in this drivetrain adventure. Hopefully they help someone out there.

Ergopower overhaul instructions from Campyonly.com (link defunct, this now goes to the archive.org version)

Part numbers (incl early Ergopower shifters) from Campagnolo.com (link defunct, this now goes to the archive.org version)

Second generation Ergopower parts and kits from Branford Bike (link defunct, this now goes to the archive.org version)