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Micro Market Mania: Past, Present, Future

When considering the mega-impact micro markets are having on the food service industry, you can’t help but wonder how the trend started, where it’s headed, and what it means for you and your customers. A macro picture of micro markets can deepen your understanding of them and help you grab a bigger piece of the constantly growing self-service pie.

Love at First Bite: Automats and the Big Apple

Self-service dining and retail may seem like a millennial phenomenon, driven as it tends to be these days by millennial demand for grab-and-go convenience. However, it actually dates back to the early part of the last century with the rise of the automat, a cafeteria where food and drinks were dispensed by the then-new technology of vending machines.

Horn & Hardart Co. (the pioneering company that borrowed the model from Europe, where it originated in the 1880s) opened automats throughout the northeast, including New York City’s first, which debuted July 2, 1912, in Times Square. “The concept of the quick lunch was a New York innovation,” culinary historian Laura Shapiro told the New York Times.1 Then as now, “[t]ime and money and speed ruled the New York day.” 1

Automats were popular for decades, then gradually disappeared. Competition for the fast food market heated up and they started to eat costs as their vending technology (especially their ability to only process nickels and quarters) became obsolete.

Fast Forward to Faster Food

Today’s micro markets have a technological sophistication that combines variety, efficiency and flexibility. The development of digital payment processing systems and on-screen automation make micro market kiosks models of self-service ease and convenience. And without the need for cashiers, servers and tips, they save both foodservice operators and consumers money.

What’s more, micro markets offer a wide range of flexible payment options to encourage sales. In addition to traditional debit and credit cards, micro market payment processing systems can accommodate mobile payments, customized prepaid cards, and direct debits from consumers’ paychecks. This extreme ease of payment lends itself to reward promotions and loyalty programs to incentivize repeat business.

While micro markets rely on an honor system and loss prevention is an issue, technological advances like video monitoring systems mitigate theft, making self-service increasingly appealing to foodservice operators looking to cash in on the quick service trend. Micro markets average only 1.5% loss due to shrinkage, whereas typical retail sees as much as 20%.2

More Micro Mojo Expected

The markets may be known as “micro,” but there’s little doubt that they can give the bottom line a big boost. In 2015, according to the annual State of the Vending Industry report published by Automatic Merchandiser magazine, micro markets drove vending sales to new heights, as we reported here.

Some additional food for thought:2

  • Micro markets are on track to be a $7 billion industry by 2020.
  • Growth was 99.2% from 2012 to 2013.
  • 50,000 micro markets are expected to be in operation in the next 5 years.

Companies that cater to the micro market industry are seeing unprecedented growth as corporate offices, hotels and large retailers increase demand for mini-stores and self-checkout kiosks. One company reported revenue in excess of $23 million last year and projects more than $30 million in sales this year.3

As micro markets become more popular as a reliable and efficient alternative to vending and a next-level progression for QSRs, it makes sense to determine the best fit for self-service in your operation. Have any ideas? We’d love to get your thoughts below.

1 Roberts, Sam, “Revisiting the Era of Automated Dining,” The New York Times, June 17, 2012,
2 The Lab: The Official Blog of Olea Kiosks Inc., “The Growth of Micro Market Kiosks,” September 8, 2015,
3 Benedetti, Marti,“Micromarkets bring fresh flavor to self-service biz,” Crain’s Detroit Business, January 24, 2016,

Topics: Technology, Millennials, Trends, Mobile, Foodservice Industry

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