Skip links


The bacon and cheese effect: The psychology behind why you spend more at the kiosk

Did you know that when you order your meal from a kiosk you typically spend an average of 20% more than when giving your order to a person?

Well, McDonald’s sure does. And so does Panera, Shake Shack and many other fast casual restaurant brands that have chosen to roll-out self-service technology in their stores this year.

Bottom lines are soaring, with Panera Bread now fulfilling 3.1 million orders a week through its digital platform, while McDonald’s stock prices have doubled since it piloted its Store of The Future business model in 2015.

So why are we inclined to spend more when presented with a kiosk as opposed to a human? The answer lies in the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX)  – both of which are carefully designed to encourage consumers to spend more and eat more. Let’s pop the hood on each…

UI tricks of the trade: How kiosks are designed to make customers part with more cash
  • Menu real estate

By allocating more menu space to higher value items as opposed to cheaper options – and organizing them so they’re always the first option – more people tend to pick them. Studies have found that 70% of the time people will pick one of the first three options in a buffet because all subsequent choices are compared to the first option.

  • Upsells and cross-sells

Kiosks present more opportunity for upselling (‘go large?’) and cross selling (‘extra bacon or cheese?’) than is possible at a manned checkout. And since customers tend to feel less judged when ordering at the kiosk (see the UX section below) they will opt for extras more often.

  • 7 is the magic number

Generally speaking, our short-term memory can store about seven items at one time. Kiosk menus capitalize on this by chunking lists into six or seven categories, with just one of those categories assigned to cheaper products, therefore increasing the chances that we’ll opt for a more expensive meal.

  • Gestalt principles

Clever menus use patterns in order to drive our attention to certain products. By playing with the background colours or adding frames, high value food items can be lined up so they appear as a pattern. Next to lots of randomly arranged lower cost items, our eyes will naturally be drawn to the repetition and we are encouraged to pick from that selection. This methodology is called Gestalt Principles in psychology and is often employed as a tactic in kiosk menus.

  • You touch it, you buy it.

According to a 2017 study, the physical experience of touching products on a screen increases the likelihood that customers will make a purchase. The same study claims that people find touchscreens more fun than desktops, therefore putting them at ease and more willing to part with their cash.

A comfortable UX: Feel better, spend more.
  • Reduced social friction

A kiosk involves less social interaction than ordering from a cashier which may put some customers at ease, particularly those who may be anxious about their language or communication skills. A study in 2014 found that, when a liquor store changed from face-to-face to self-service, the market share of difficult-to-pronounce items increased 8.4%. They concluded that some consumers fear being misunderstood or appearing unsophisticated in front of store staff. Changing to self-service technology effectively removed the friction.

  • No judging

Fewer glaring eyes means customers are more likely to opt in when presented with a cross sell or upsell, without worrying that they are getting judged on their eating habits. Domino’s customers who order online typically choose food with 3% more calories, and give 14% more special instructions compared with the average purchase made over the phone.

  • Increased sense of control

Self-service technology shifts the locus of control to the customer. Rather than being at the mercy of the queue, guests using a kiosk take their time to customize an order to their liking. The feeling of control enhances the user experience, meaning higher ticket values, increased loyalty and ultimately more money for the operator.

  • Perceived faster service

When you order from a kiosk in a fast casual restaurant typically you queue twice – once at the kiosk and again in the collection zone. Queue chunking like this breaks up the experience into two discrete chapters and makes it feel like you’re moving faster, even though the journey may actually take the same time. Clever!

Keep up to date with our news
and don’t miss a chance to join the team!