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Today’s topic: the new Panera kiosk.

While most of my articles focus on people finding their voice through great work, I also occasionally write on technology that I encounter in my every day experience.

Our Panera recently went through a remodel which included the usual new coat of paint, new tables, and some new lighting. We also received these nifty new Panera kiosks where we, the adoring public, can place our orders.

The idea here is to forego the long line at the cash registers.

  1. Jump to an open kiosk
  2. Swipe your My Panera Card
  3. Order

It’s that easy.

Panera Kiosk User Experience

My in-laws were in town several weeks ago when we first gave this a try on a very busy Sunday morning, probably the first week or so the kiosks were in operation.

It was a complete flop.

My in-laws were at the time-saving kiosk about 12 minutes and eventually had to get the help of one of the workers.

My wife and I also took our turn at a separate Panera kiosk while my in-laws found their way through the maze.

My wife’s order (You Pick Two with soup and salad) was fairly easy to get into the system, my kid’s order (grilled cheese, yogurt and white milk) took a little bit longer, but we eventually got it.

The wheels came off the cart when I tried to include my meal – Chicken Caesar Sandwich on sourdough, no tomato, extra sauce.

I scanned up and down the menu 14 times looking for my sandwich. No dice.

I eventually had to get one of the workers to help me. Still no luck. She went away and returned with the explanation that my sandwich was not on the kiosk menu, and that I would have to get in line to order my sandwich.

Seriously?

While stuck in kiosk purgatory I looked for the lady who was in line behind me before I jumped into this alleged fast lane. She was now at the register and making great progress ordering her food.  My use-the-kiosk-to-save-time strategy had backfired.

At this point I was highly annoyed with the whole user experience, and got the feeling that this system’s days were already numbered.

Fast forward to today, about 8 weeks after our first experience.

I decided to give the kiosk another try.

After swiping My Panera card I found our previous order — my wife’s soup and salad, and my daughter’s grilled cheese had been saved by the system. I could order them again with one touch.  Pretty slick!

I still could not find my Chicken Ceasar sandwich, but kinda expected that.

We paid for my daughter’s order at the kiosk, and jumped in the regular line to get my sandwich.

Side Note

[callout]I also just discovered a Panera Bread app that appears to be targeted for beta use in the Minneapolis area. I’ll have to investigate this further as it could be promising as well.[/callout]

Editorial

Panera is by far one of the best innovators I have found in the fast casual segment, and heaven knows I have spent more than my fair share of expendable income here.

This implementation of technology-for-the-masses is in the right direction, yet misses the mark in key areas.

  1. If I can’t find my item on the menu, the system is broken.
  2. If this takes longer than just standing in the regular line, the system is really broken.

As a user what I really like is the ability to have pre-packaged favorites that allow me to do just what we did with my daughter’s grilled cheese — swipe, pay, and go. Bang. Fast and easy.  Just the way technology should be.

Panera could allow us to accumulate these favorites by

  1. Having the kind people at the register say, “Would you like me to save this order as a favorite on your My Panera card so you can order from our kiosks next time and not have to stand in line?”
  2. Allow me to go online and build my favorites — including the off-menu Chicken Caesar sandwich — so I can save them to my My Panera account.  Next time I visit the kiosk, my favorite meal will be there just like my daughter’s grilled cheese.

I think the kiosks are a great idea that could really enhance my overall experience at Panera.  In their current rendition, however, I just don’t see the kiosks ready for the general public unless the path to the kiosks comes through the existing register, just like back in the 70’s when bank tellers were showing people how to use ATMs.