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The straight poop about fast-food self-service kiosks

Matt Schulz

Looking for a place for my kid to use the potty, I managed to stumble across a quicker way to get through the line at a fast-food joint.

jackinthebox-kiosk-300.jpgMost every parent has been there: You’re on the highway, trying to make time, and a voice comes from the backseat, saying, “I need to go potty.” Fortunately, driving between Austin and San Antonio, there are countless places to stop, so rather than pushing our luck that Saturday morning, we just took the next exit off the highway and stopped at a Jack in the Box in New Braunfels, Texas.

I’ve worked at fast-food places and, Lord knows, have eaten in enough of them to know that using the restroom without buying anything is definitely frowned upon. So, upstanding customer that I am, I went up to the front counter, while my wife took my son to the bathroom.

While figuring out what to order, I saw a maroon-colored kiosk, just to the right of the counter. It was about the size of your typical ATM. Its bright-orange screen said, in block letters, “Order and pay here.” So I did. The line at the counter wasn’t long, but I couldn’t resist trying out some new technology.

I swiped my credit card, navigated through my choices using the kiosk’s touch screen and chose what I wanted — a sausage-and-egg biscuit. I then followed the on-screen instructions, finished my order and received a receipt for my efforts. Then, I just stepped away from the kiosk to wait.

A few minutes later, my wife and son emerged from the bathroom, I had my biscuit and we hit the road.

As we drove, I told my wife how cool I thought that was and questioned why we hadn’t seen more of them. I’ve been in fast-food places all across the nation and had never seen one. Turns out that I apparently just hadn’t been looking in the right places.

According to QSR magazine — which covers the fast-food business — these kiosks were rolled out in some Jack in the Box locations as early as 2009. They can now be used in more than 200 Jack in the Box locations. says that they can also be found in California Pizza Kitchens in the U.S., as well as in more than 800 McDonald’s locations in Europe. Don’t hold your breath for them to arrive in your nearest neighborhood McDonald’s though; that same article quotes a company spokeswoman saying that no plans have been made to bring them to the U.S.

Surely, though, it is just a matter of time before these kiosks become as common as self-service lanes at grocery stores. I hope so. I love using them. However, I also know that the American credit card business tends to adopt technology somewhat glacially compared to our European counterparts. (Chip-and-PIN, anyone?)

Still, American businesses will likely come around sooner rather than later. After all, those companies know that Americans hate to wait, and anything that helps us avoid that — whether it’s for groceries, a sausage-and-egg biscuit or a little boy to finish using the potty — is a welcome change.

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