Editor's note: This article first appeared in Kiosk Marketplace, a Mobile Payments Today sister publication.
With its new look, dubbed "Fresh Forward," Subway has gone "high tech." The redesign, now being rolled out to stores nationwide, makes it easier for customers to order and pay for food, thanks in large measure to the new self-order kiosks.
"The kiosks introduce another channel for tech-savvy guests to engage with the brand and needed to feel integrated into the customer journey," Robyn Novak, vice president and creative managing director for FRCH Design Worldwide, told Kiosk Marketplace. Subway hired Novak's firm to create the new store look.
The restaurant's physical space was revamped to enable a seamless guest experience with kiosk ordering, dedicated pick-up and carry-out.
Additional conveniences include a bot for Messenger orders, USB charging ports and complementary Wi-Fi.
The redesign, which also emphasizes food freshness, was the result of about a year and a half of focus groups, research and customer interviews.
"The location of the kiosks is not only convenient, but offers visibility to the ‘make-line,' allowing guests to still feel immersed in the 'Fresh Forward' experience that Subway has elevated within the new design," Novak said.
The kiosks are separate from the pick-up area in order to prevent congestion. The positioning of the kiosk within the store depends on the amount of square footage available. In some stores, the kiosks are up against a wall, while in those with less room to work, the kiosks are up against windows.
"When it came to integrating the kiosks within the restaurant environment, the priority was to create a prominent view from not only the entry, but clear visibility from the exterior as well," Novak said.
Improved customer accessibility
"It's all about making our food convenient and accessible," Trevor Haynes, Subway's vice president of operations, told Kiosk Marketplace. "Self-order kiosks provide another option for customers to order their meal, in addition to mobile and messenger options." Customers can also order and pay through the website – order.subway.com – or through the Subway mobile app.
When paying at the kiosk, the customer can use a credit card, Apple Pay or Android Pay. They cannot use cash.
"With the kiosks, our customers will never have to wait in line, and they can expect their order to be exactly what they want, as if they were going through the sandwich line," Haynes said.
Improved order customization
In addition to placing orders faster and ensuring order accuracy, the kiosks allow patrons to customize their orders.
"The self-order kiosks allow customers to be as creative as they want with their meal and experiment with the food and toppings, helping us to deliver a personalized, convenient and rewarding experience to our all guests," Haynes said.
Subway tapped Agilitee Solutions LLC, one of its existing digital solutions providers, to design and build the kiosk.
Integrating the kiosk with Subway's existing software systems was challenging, Steve Street, Agilitee founder and lead digital partner, told Kiosk Marketplace. Agilitee had to integrate the kiosk with Subway's existing product catalog, payment system and POS system in a limited time period.
Agilitee also had to develop a kiosk that would meet the needs of Subway customers and be deployed in a cost effective manner.
"They needed a vendor that they trusted, that understood the complexities of all the Subway systems, and foresee the challenges that would come with building a digital kiosk," said Street.
"What's the pricing for the product at that restaurant location?" Street offered as an example of the functionality required of the kiosk. In addition, he noted, "It has to communicate with their payment providers."
"The kiosk allows you not only to get your sandwich, but also to ensure that those ingredients are available at that restaurant location," Street said. "It also has to validate that the payment is valid and has to send the order down to that local restaurant."
The kiosk and the new mobile app both integrate with the same software system, he said, although his company was not significantly involved in developing the mobile app.
Not a job killer
The kiosks will not be replacing employees, Haynes said.
"The sandwich line and the interaction with 'Sandwich Artists' (who prepare the meals) will always be part of our model; however, the kiosks do create some efficiencies," he said. "Sandwich Artists are able to make meals faster, creating sandwiches that come in from the kiosks quickly while continuing to give customers who go through the line a great experience."
While Subway announced 12 locations for the redesign in July, the company now has 29 Subway Fresh Forward design locations worldwide.
The company is not recommending all of its restaurants have kiosks.
"We conducted research to determine how to best implement the Subway Fresh Forward design, and learned that not all locations should have kiosks for various reasons, like restaurant space, customer traffic and other factors," Haynes said. Other factors include sales performance and leases.
For those stores that should have kiosks, the company is recommending three units.
The new builds require an investment of $200,000 to $300,000, Haynes said.
Analysts have said that, as a brand, Subway has not kept up with the growing popularity of restaurant technology such as mobile apps and online rewards programs. The redesign comes after three years of declining sales for the brand, including a 1.7 percent drop just last year in the U.S., to $11.3 billion. This stands in contrast to restaurant sales overall, which grew almost 4 percent last year, according to Technomic.
By deploying its "Fresh Forward" concept, the company has recognized the need to make ordering more convenient in addition to continuing its emphasis on freshness.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.