A simple menu of burgers and fries. Checkered floors. Vintage radios. And something a little futuristic.
Walk into Pudgyboy’s at 311 Bank St. and you’ll notice the eatery has all the stylings of a '50s-inspired diner, save for one important difference: Where you’d expect a fresh-faced server wearing a paper cap and a bright smile ready to take your order, what you’ll actually find is a touch screen and a card reader.
Pudgyboy’s doesn’t have any front-of-house staff. Instead, customers order their meals using self-service digital kiosks that only accept debit and credit cards.
“Right from the get-go we haven’t been taking any cash,” said co-owner Max Anisman, who, alongside Corey Sauvé, opened Pudgyboy’s last November.
Pudgyboy’s self-service kiosks are simple to operate. Hungry patrons swipe through the restaurant’s selection of miniaturized sliders, fries and donuts, tap on what they want, pay, then wait for their order to be served at the counter.
“It allows customers to choose exactly what they want, how they want it, without having a middleman make a mistake,” said Sauvé.
Industry moving towards automation
Pudgyboy’s isn’t alone in the adoption of self-service kiosks in the fast-casual food sector.
McDonald’s, Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill are some of the major fast-food chains that have integrated self-service kiosks while still including traditional counter attendants.
“We’ve seen a dramatic rise in interest for self-order kiosks, mainly driven by labour and up-selling.”
“We’ve seen a dramatic rise in interest for self-order kiosks, mainly driven by labour and up-selling,” said Dawar Rashid, client relations manager for Eflyn, the company that designed Pudgyboy’s order kiosks.
Customers ordering on their own, through a digital device or an online service like SkipTheDishes, tend to order meals that are 20 per cent more expensive than they would when ordering at a service counter, Dawar said.
Several studies support that figure, though the research is far from exhaustive.
Increased sales or no, when it comes to savings on labour, order kiosks are an attractive option for restaurants.
“In Ontario, with the increase in minimum wage, it’s increased the focus and attention on how to decrease labour costs,” said Chris Gibbs, an associate professor at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management who researches the adoption of technology in the hospitality industry.
An Eflyn kiosk only costs about $14 to power for almost an entire day, while paying a cashier to take orders instead would cost at least that much every hour. Most restaurants operate on slim profit margins, so that level of saving can be a major boon, Gibb says.
A fast-food restaurant where convenience trumps the dining experience is also the ideal setting for a self-order kiosk, he added.
Adopting a fully self-service ordering model may alienate some customers who are unfamiliar with the technology, though experts say younger consumers are keen on kiosks and other digital approaches.
“The millennial generation, the up-and-coming generations, are okay in the service industry not speaking to somebody,” said Gibbs.
On the other hand, older customers, international tourists, or people looking for a more traditional sit-down dining experience could be confused or put off by a self-order device.
For Sauvé and Anisman, any potential pitfalls in the self-service model are outweighed by the benefits of eliminating the need for a front-of-house staff, especially when it comes to operating efficiency.
Cashless kiosks negate the need to do cash-outs at the end of the day, allow for changes to the menu without the need to print new copies and allow for the instantaneous addition of promotional offers without the need to alert staff, they said.
Sauvé and Anisman also co-own Flapjack’s, a Canadian-themed diner in Little Italy. Flapjack’s has a menu with recipes almost identical to Pudgyboy’s, save for the size of items.
“When a staff member is hired at Pudgyboy’s, they’re trained for both. When a staff member is hired (at Flapjack’s), they’re trained for both. Our incentive is to have a larger staff to choose from,” said Sauvé.
Having workers trained to work at either Flapjack’s or Pudgyboy’s also makes opening new locations easier, with expansion top of mind for Sauvé and Anisman.
“We want to open more locations of both,” said Sauvé, later adding their goal is to open five more locations in the next three years.
“We’re always looking,” he said. “And when we find the right spot, we’ll have the right staff that’s trained for both locations.”