Shake Shack is a burger chain with over a hundred locations across the country but most of those are in major metropolitan areas. You won’t find a Shake Shack in every small town you pass through on the highway, the way you find other chains like McDonald’s. Shake Shack’s newest location in New York is something of an experiment as CNBC reports:
Located in Astor Place, this Shake Shack won’t have a cashier’s counter. Instead, guests will use digital kiosks or their mobile phones to place orders. Manning these kiosks will be “hospitality champs,” Shake Shack employees who specialize in making customers’ time in the restaurant as seamless and enjoyable as possible.Orders will go directly to the kitchen, which has been rearranged to “eliminate friction time,” Garutti told CNBC.
Eliminating “friction” is a big piece of this new Shack location. In addition to streamlining the back of house operation, the Astor Place Shake Shack will not accept cash.
In short, Shake Shack is experimenting with getting rid of cashiers. Eater, a site devoted to restaurant news, reports this is an about-face for the company from just a year ago:
Last year, in an interview with Eater, [founder Danny] Meyer hinted that robots had no part of Shake Shack’s future. “I know there is a temptation to replace human beings with robots or with iPads,” Meyer remarked. “We want you to leave 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.”
So what changed? No one is saying exactly but there is a second experimental aspect of this new locations: a starting salary of $15 an hour:
[CEO Randy] Garutti also notes that team members at the kiosked location will start at $15 per hour — $2.50 more than the starting wage at other New York locations — as part of a pilot program “so we can work out how we’re going to do [a $15 starting wage] across the board.”
Why are they concerned about doing this across the board? Because the minimum wage in NYC jumps to $13.50 an hour this December and will jump again to $15 an hour in December 2018.
So to sum this up: Shake Shack was against moving to “robots” as recently as a year ago, but facing the increasing minimum wage the chain is now opening a new store with no cash and no cashiers. The CEO claims Shake Shack will be doubling the kitchen staff as shorter lines result in more customers, but that’s all talk at this point. The number of people in the kitchen will be determined by the actual demand and no one knows what that will be yet. You can bet other fast food chains are watching this experiment as well as they try to figure out how to survive the new minimum wage.