Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer is getting rid of human cashiers at the newest location of Shake Shack — going against an earlier statement that he would not head toward automated ordering. The king of hospitality’s imminent East Village location will only offer ordering via kiosk.
Just one year ago, Meyer told Eater.com that, “I know there is a temptation to replace human beings with robots or with iPads. We want you to leave you there just skipping with delight, and so far we haven't found anything that does that better, either in terms of the food or the hospitality, than people.”
It’s a stark about-face for Meyer, who’s opening the newest location at 51 Astor Place this month. Rather than ordering from an actual human, customers must input their own order through touch-screen kiosks that do not take cash. There will still be people — labeled “hospitality champs” — assisting with the system, in case it is confusing for anybody.
The chain says it started the system to allow for shorter lines, as well as higher pay for its employees at $15 an hour, which is well above current minimum wage. Texts will alert people when food is ready, rather than the buzzers currently deployed at every other location. Despite the changes, the company says that it will hire a similar number of staff for this outpost as it does for other ones.
CEO Randy Garutti says in a statement that this location “will be a playground where we can test and learn the ever-shifting needs of our guests.”
Meyer, whose tagline is “enlightened hospitality,” is known for his commitment to the diner, so this is an ironic move — to have customers do their own work of ordering — for him. He is not the first to head toward robotic ordering. Airports and chains like Eatsa have been doing it for a while, but Meyer is a titan that’s particularly watched in the industry, especially after leading the no-tipping movement in NYC.
This direction is likely one many will be watching, especially in light of the upcoming minimum wage increase, which has already pointed to the rise of robotic labor and is making NYC restaurateurs nervous. Others, like Will and Julie Horowitz of Ducks Eatery, have already adapted by adding fast-casual restaurants to their roster to help couch the pay increase.
Started by the restaurateur titan in 2004, Shake Shack has grown to 17 open and upcoming locations in NYC and over 135 worldwide. A new West Village location is also on tap, but no word yet if the same system will be used there. Stay tuned.