Arizona Restaurant Survives Minimum Wage Hikes with Self Ordering Kiosk
September 13, 2017 --
Birmingham Alabama, Sept. 13, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) --
Hanna Nilsson wants to share the success of her Beaver Choice restaurant with her employees, rewarding them with larger raises.
Verbal praise has to do for now. A spike in Arizona's minimum wage – and a major mandated jump in server earnings – makes spreading more of the wealth a financial struggle.
“It puts pressure on restaurants to keep prices low and, at the same time, pay people more,” Nilsson said. “That’s really tough.”
Arizona restaurateurs, unlike many other states requiring raises for the lowest earners, are enduring multiple blows as a result of state legislation.
The minimum wage didn’t just jump from $8.05 to $10 an hour. While servers can be paid $7 an hour, if their tips fall short of the new minimum, their employer must make up the difference so that they, too, are guaranteed $10 an hour.
In addition, employers with fewer than 15 employees, like Beaver Choice, must provide each worker 24 hours of paid sick time a year. The problem with that, some expect, is that the time will be used as vacation and with little or no notice to the restaurant.
Against the proverbial ropes, Beaver Choice is fighting back with self-serve tabletop kiosks it soon will bring online. The devices, manufactured by technology firm Juke Slot, are anticipated to be game-changers for the restaurant.
“As wages, expenses and other operational costs continue to rise, kiosks are perfect solutions for stemming the financial tide,” said Grace Vasa, Juke Slot CEO. “While there are critics who see this type of technology as a negative to the workforce, it’s a perfect means for helping businesses maintain their financial footing and keeping workers employed.”
Beaver Choice, which features a cuisine of Polish, Swedish and Canadian food, has come a long way – literally – to Arizona. It began several years ago in Canada in what, Nilsson said, was North America’s first food truck.
Looking for warmer conditions, she moved the operation to Mesa, settling into a permanent structure.
The American approach to dining is drastically different than anything Nilsson has seen in all her years in the field. Diners in the States generally want – and expect – food that is cheap and fast.
The desire forced Nilsson to change the restaurant’s approach.
“I had no clue how to solve this problem of speedy service,” she said. “With kiosks, I thought, ‘Maybe we should have them.’ This would solve the whole thing.”
At a glance
Juke Slot’s kiosks act like virtual servers comprised of a great deal artificial intelligence . The company’s multifaceted devices, measuring 8 inches by 5 inches, weigh less than 2 pounds and features a 7-inch high-resolution touch screen display.
Its Android-based software is customizable, meaning users can tailor the interface to their needs. A restaurant not only can display its menu on the screen, but also can allow customers to configure meals to their liking.
The solution is built with versatility in mind. The units allow diners sitting at tables to place their orders through the device, which connects wirelessly to the restaurant’s main point-of-sale system and kitchen displays, sending their request directly to the cooks.
Having customers taking charge of the ordering process also minimizes errors, as they clearly see what they’re requesting.
The device is built to function as a portable point-of-sale system or operate as an additional system separate the current POS, allowing customers use the machine from the start of their visit to the finish. Customers can make secure electronic payments – by either swiping their card, keying in their card’s numbers and even scanning their smart phone – and receive a printed receipt.
Units can be designed to include advertising and popular game play, enabling customers to occupy their wait times competing – for a nominal fee – against the computer or other in-house players. The setup then becomes an additional revenue stream for the business.
Winnowing the options
Realizing she needed to make a move to counter the state legislature’s actions, Nilsson researched and studied kiosk solutions from 10 companies.
She found some to be too costly. She found that some did not account for the creativity and flexibility she needed.
Nielsen chose Juke Slot after dining at a restaurant in New York and reviewing their system capabilities and cost. Customers seemed to have a smooth experience using Juke Slot technology. They used the machines to order, pay and quickly be on their way – all without seemingly tying up a server for extended periods of time.
“Everyone was paying at the table,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for the check. You eat, and you leave.”
Twenty-two Juke Slot devices will be placed on tables around Beaver Choice later this month, much to Nilsson’s excitement. She sees the kiosks as a turning point, one where servers can be repurposed as consultants who can spend more time with diners, making meal and drink suggestions and upselling, instead of racing between the table, the kitchen and the register.
That’s a plus, Nilsson said, for an area of the country that is something of an oddity. The Arizona dining market peaks over four months that stretch from late fall through the winter as snowbirds return to the area.
Once warmer weather reaches the rest of the country in early spring, those snowbirds fan back out, sending Mesa restaurant business plummeting by some 40 percent. That being the case, there is no need for the same number of workers to man a less-busy operation.
Nilsson maintains a core of five or six solid workers – about half the staff size of the peak season. Until now, those working the dining area – including herself – are often overwhelmed with simply taking orders, delivering food to the tables and processing payments. The kiosks will give them more time and flexibility in hectic stretches of the day.
Most importantly, the devices can cover many of the duties of a live server, meaning Nilsson has to hire fewer people, can spend more time training those she brings on annually and can spread some of the staff savings to other employees.
All told, she expects that the devices will save the restaurant upward of $30,000 a year.
“This is what technology is for,” Nilsson said. “You’re setting up the process for other servers to succeed and for customers to be happy.”
Beaver Choice diners can use the kiosks to peruse the menu, order drinks, order meals and then pay using a credit or debit card.
Perhaps what Nilsson likes most is that Juke Slot’s software platform enables Beaver Choice to configure its menu as she wants. The restaurant can log into the system, edit the design, adding new choices and removing others.
"Our systems are designed with the customer as the focal point," Vasa said. "The solution has to be easy and intuitive. Otherwise, it doesn't serve its purpose.”
If Beaver Choice runs out of an item, Nilsson can reconfigure the selections as if the dish never was there. She also can use the software to promote specials and discounts.
Other kiosk manufacturers required that such changes be sent to them viarequest. They would make the updates and relay them to the machines.
“That only slows things down,” Nilsson said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Getting others on board
Since the wage hike took effect in January, Nilsson has seen a number of restaurants – already operating on thin profit margins – close. That hasn’t set well with her because she – like others in the community – enjoys frequenting a variety of eateries.
As Arizona’s minimum wage will climb incrementally in the coming years – reaching $12 an hour in 2020 – Nilsson plans to spread the word about the tabletop kiosks and the opportunities they afford. She’s hopeful that her competitors – many of whom are her friends – will choose to implement them instead of choosing to shut down.
“It’s tough to find additional staff that is reliable and good,” Nilsson said. “Plus, this saves me from bad Yelp reviews. When you are short on staff and there are delays, everyone is mad that they don’t get their check in time. With this on the table, they can just pay and leave.”
For more information or to purchase Juke Slot’s software or kiosks, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTACT: Grace VasaEmail: email@example.com: www.restaurantkiosk.com