Is Fast Food finally becoming truly fast? A look at A&W’s self-serve kiosks

On my way home from work, I stop into a nearby Royal Bank branch to deposit a cheque using their ATM machines. Then I head over to Superstore, grab a few things, and scan my groceries using their self-checkout. On my way home, I stop for gas, paying at the pump. AT home, I book a flight online, before checking my bags and picking seats at a computer terminal in the airport.

Finally, I realize I’m short on dinner and head over to Kentucky Fried Chicken – “fast food,” as they call it, but as usual I’m stuck in line, whether in-store or by drive-thru, for a long time.

Stuck there… thinking about how much more efficient the no-human-contact errands were.

Fast food is an industry that, literally by its very name, should have and could benefit from self-serve terminals. So far, at least in Canada, this has largely failed to be the case, despite all the way back in 2005 IBM and NCR were showing off self-service kiosk technologies at the 10th annual International Foodservice Technology Exposition.

But the first real evidence of a self-serve kiosk inside of restaurants has finally come. Not from the likeliest source, fast food emperor McDonald’s, but rather, A&W, the classic burger joint branded (somewhat ironically now) with an oldschool, 50s diner feel.

These “urban concept” A&Ws are slowly sprouting up in major cities across Canada, starting with Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver. They have slightly tweaked menus, layouts, and designs, but most important they have “express” service: self-serve ordering terminals that let you use touch screens to select meals and pay by debit or credit card. They’re user-friendly and there are many of them, even in Waterfront Station’s relatively small A&W, thoroughly eradicating line-ups. And for those embarrassed by the particularity of their order, or feel guilty when holding up lines, or are either terribly indecisive or impatiently ready to order… all their problems are solved.

Fast food and self-serve ordering belong together, harmonious in perfect matrimony. Hopefully more chains like Dairy Queen and Burger Queen adopt this technology. Then, for once, “fast food” may actually be fast.