The Challenge

Buona Beef, the family-owned and operated Italian beef restaurant, was keen to respond to customers’ changing technological needs to drive business growth and address supply chain issues and labor shortages. The company needed compact, stylish and customizable solutions that would help improve the customer experience and drive loyalty. In 2021, the company embarked on a digital transformation strategy, looking to add more convenient technology to its various locations in Illinois, including self-service kiosks and menu displays to make for easy ordering.  

The Solution

“We knew we needed to fast-track kiosks as quickly as we could.”

—Mark Kearins, Buona IT Director

The Results


About Buona

Buona embodies a cherished Chicago tradition, uniting family heritage with a renowned recipe for Italian beef. Founded over four decades ago by Joe and Peggy in Berwyn, IL, the first Buona restaurant quickly became a staple for its unique take on this classic Chicago dish.

Today, the Buona brand is upheld by the combined efforts of the original family members along with the third generation of Buonavolantos, all contributing to the ongoing success and growth. This collaborative spirit, coupled with the dedication of hard-working employees, has established Buona as the largest family-owned Italian beef restaurant group and producer in the nation, serving its customers and communities.

The Challenge

Finding the right technology to address supply chain issues and labor challenges

Buona Beef, the Chicago, Illinois, restaurant chain specializing in Italian beef, needed to head off challenges posed by supply chain issues and labor shortages. And they knew where to turn — interactive technology.

The brand launched its digital transformation in 2021 as business bounced back following the COVID-19 pandemic. They recognized the existing system didn’t have the capability to handle modern realities and customer expectations, such as online ordering and third-party delivery. “We wanted to implement kiosks because we saw supply chain and labor issues on the horizon,” said Mark Kearins, Buona IT Director. “We knew we needed to fast-track kiosks as quickly as we could.”

Buona Beef already had a strong relationship with Bite, the leading intelligence kiosk ordering software, and had initially teamed up with another supplier for the kiosks. However, it was a “clunkier prototype” and it was difficult sourcing parts, Kearins recalled.

Buona Beef was, in fact, one of the first clients that went live on Bite’s build out of Samsung’s Tizen solution, explained Natalie Wild, chief customer officer at Bite. “Buona Beef was a fantastic partner in providing feedback, so that Bite could quickly address needed improvements,” she said.

When Buona Beef attended the National Restaurant Association Show, they saw Samsung’s impressive displays in the exhibition hall. They were immediately attracted to the compact design of Samsung Kiosk and the all-in-one payment and ordering solution it presented. The ability to integrate the brand’s My Buona Rewards loyalty program was another key selling point. Previously, customers needed to select another screen to access their points and rewards, which was not only inconvenient but could slow down sales.

“We’ve been in business for 40 years and some of our locations are 40 years old. We did not really think about kiosks back then and put a little notch out there for them, so the compact size was great.” Kearins said.

The Solution

Digital displays aid menu updates and streamline operations

After Buona Beef connected with Samsung at the National Restaurant Association Show, they began collaborating with Bite to run the digital ordering software on Samsung Kiosk. Bite took time to build out to Samsung’s solution, Wild explained. “The time taken was valuable to allow Bite better infrastructure to manage an additional platform,” she said.

The solution was then rolled out to all Buona Beef’s 27 locations in the first quarter of 2023. To date, there are now 32 Samsung Kiosks across the Buona Beef restaurant chain. Going forward, new build sites will be designed to incorporate a dedicated area for self-service kiosks, Kearins said. The kiosk ecosystem can also be managed remotely, allowing Buona Beef to troubleshoot and resolve any issues quickly and easily across all locations.

Critically, the technology allows customers to have exactly the same interactions with the kiosk that they could with a cashier. All menu items, as well as gift cards, can be bought on the kiosk, for instance, and Buona Beef’s loyalty program has been integrated, too. This is key since 40% of their customers are loyalty members. The all-in-one design with a built-in scanner is user-friendly and enables customers to quickly scan their app to add loyalty points and/or claim their rewards such as a free dessert or free entrée.

Buona Beef connected with Samsung

The sleek, clean design of Samsung Kiosk means it blends well in the restaurant environment. It isn’t encumbered with wires either, making it easy to install and activate. The 22-inch touchscreen provides a quality display with crisp and clear visuals that attract customer attention. Samsung Kiosk is also customizable, so operators can adjust the brightness of the screen and upload pictures without hindering performance.

Crucially, the kiosks are not replacing any employees at the store. Instead, they help address labor shortages. Prior to their introduction at Buona Beef, employees worked across multiple roles taking orders and serving, for example. Now, they are able to focus on ensuring each order is 100% accurate, every single time. Staff are also trained on Samsung Kiosks and encouraged to place orders themselves to understand the process, such as how to add a gift card or use the loyalty program.

Buona Beef’s digital transformation continues apace with the introduction of Samsung digital displays at its latest store in Valparaiso, Indiana. Opened in April 2023, Valparaiso is Buona Beef’s first dual-branded concept with Rainbow Cone, a 97-year-old Chicago ice cream brand. The site features two three-panel displays at the drive-thru, showcasing the Buona Beef menu and promotions. It also has menu boards within the Rainbow Cone ice cream shop. An order confirmation pop-up is in development and is expected to go live in Q1 2024.

Samsung digital displays will be introduced at Buona Beef’s other locations as it retrofits them to include the Rainbow Cone brand. The digital displays enable the company to tell the Rainbow Cone story and showcase its product offer. In replacing static displays, they also allow for rapid menu updates.

“In a few weeks we are doing a menu update, and that location is going to be very simple,” Kearins said. “At my 26 other locations, we are coordinating signage companies to come out in the middle of the night to change the boards. Logistically, it’s a nightmare, and that’s only with 26 locations. As we grow, it would have been unachievable to roll out a new menu all on one day across the whole brand.”

The Technology

Samsung Kiosk

Samsung Kiosk simplifies the deployment and management of a customer experience by combining a brilliant touch display with a speaker, printer, scanner and payment solution – all in a sleek, attractive design.

Tizen Kiosk

OH Series

UL-verified outdoor signage features brightness levels over 3,500nits. Its 24/7 performance and polarization technology eliminate display blindness from polarized lenses and delivers continuously crisp content.

OH46B - 4K UHD

The Results

A seamless customer experience that boosts employee morale

Self-service kiosks and digital menu boards put customers in control of their orders for a more personalized experience. Kiosks provide a chance for customers to explore the menu and see what other items may be available, Kearins said. And it is still a relatively swift experience. Buona Beef targets a key metric of only three minutes for customers to start and finish an order.

Samsung Kiosk is also able to differentiate between dine-in and take-out orders, with numbers to distinguish eat-in customers and a prompt for a name for to-go guests. This feeds through into the kitchen, so employees know if an order needs plating or wrapping and putting in a bag.

From an operational perspective, Samsung Kiosk enables remote access and management through the platform. This means promotions or menu updates go live on the kiosk the same day as they do in-store. Similarly, with the new Samsung digital menu boards, Buona Beef is able to instantly update pricing or add new menus as and when they roll out across the ecosystem. Moving forward, the restaurant chain is looking to incorporate new functionality, such as order recommendations based on a customer’s order history and preferences.

“Their order goes to the kitchen exactly how they want it, then we execute it properly and get happy guests.”
—Mark Kearins, Buona IT Director

Customer usage of the kiosks is growing across all the Buona Beef locations. As for the overall adoption rate, 15% of customers are now using Samsung Kiosks to place orders, and the figure is growing. At the company’s Streeterville location in Chicago, over 40% of all orders are going through the kiosk.

Kiosks are particularly popular at lunchtime with workers who know exactly what they want to order. However, families will visit too, and while the adults may initially shy away from the kiosks because they have a long or complicated order, their kids will often lead them towards it.

By demographic, there are some early adopters, Kearins added. Hospital workers near the Streeterville site, for instance, are used to dealing with technology and were quick to adapt to using the self-service kiosks. In the suburbs, meanwhile, customers tend to use the kiosks three to four times before they become acclimatized.

For Buona Beef employees, Samsung Kiosk enables them to focus on more value-added roles, such as food preparation and service, which boosts staff engagement and morale. In addition, the new digital menu boards are effective in not only displaying menu options to the customers but also introducing them to the Buona Beef brand in new locations. In Valparaiso, for instance, the company runs a short video on one of the panels, which tells the brand’s unique story. The system-on-chip design alleviates the need for a separate media device and the commercial displays stay bright, are heavy duty and made to last.

From a user’s perspective, customers appreciate being able to learn more about the brand through the digital displays and order exactly what they want through the self-service kiosks. They don’t feel bad about making modifications, and they are less likely to think twice about adding on that delicious dessert they see displayed on the menu or an extra side of fries.

“They don’t mind telling the kiosk that, and their order goes to the kitchen exactly how they want it,” Kearins said. “Then we execute it properly and get happy guests.”

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Fiona Briggs

Fiona Briggs is an experienced retail business journalist with over 10 years experience editing at senior level in both print and online media. Fiona is the editor of www.retailtimes.co.uk, a free access website focused on the global retail market. Fiona also regularly contributes articles to Global Convenience Store Focus and NACS magazine, focusing on global retail trends in convenience and forecourt retailing. Follow Fiona on Twitter: @RetailTimes

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