Danny Meyer’s world-conquering gourmet burger chain Shake Shack is experimenting with a cashless kiosk ordering system at a soon-to-open location in downtown Manhattan. This system, which will effectively minimize customer-employee interactions, is something of a surprise form a company whose operators have often touted the “enlightened hospitality” experiences at its “fine casual” chain of restaurants.
All the workers won’t be replaced by robots, though — some human employees called “hospitality champs” will be around to assist customers with their order placement and pick-up. “We’re not just going to just present the screen,” says Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti. “There will be people greeting customers, and noting to customers that they can order on their phone next time, if they want, for even faster service."
Last year, in an interview with Eater, 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.”
In an announcement about the bespoke Shake Shack kiosks today, CEO Randy Garutti wrote: “We’re excited to lead with kiosk-only ordering, putting control of the Shake Shack experience in our guest’s hands, and an optimized kitchen with increased capacity for mobile orders and eventual delivery integration to support ongoing digital innovation.” Several chains, including futuristic grain bowl operation Eatsa and beleaguered Big Mac mill McDonald’s, have also experimented with kiosk ordering systems, to varying degrees of success.
Shake Shack’s head honchos are very vocal about their commitment to paying workers above the national average for fast-food jobs. But certainly, if the kiosks are a hit, that could eliminate some staffing concerns, especially in urban areas where the cost of living is super high, while also, presumably, increasing efficiency. But Garutti insists that because the Shack staff is cross-trained, no jobs will be lost. “We’re doubling the amount of kitchen equipment and hiring a similar number of staff members because we’re expecting higher volumes to come with the shorter lines,” he says. 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.”
The kiosks are one of several innovations that the burger chain has been tinkering with lately. Last year, Shake Shack rolled out mobile ordering through its app at locations across the country. The company has been experimenting with delivery in New York City via boutique food courier Caviar. And Shake Shack is also getting a fancy new test kitchen in Manhattan’s tony West Village, which will be closed to the public.
In further Danny Meyer news, the restaurateur’s other huge company, Union Square Hospitality Group, recently launched an investment fund that has already raised $200 million. The group will likely use this extra cash to expand its stable of non-fast food restaurants.
The new ShackBurger-summoning kiosks will make their debut at the new Shake Shack location at 51 Astor Place in Manhattan later this month. "The most important thing I can say about this is that Astor Place is a place for us to learn,” Garutti says. “It’s a place for us to say, out of all these ideas, which one is a good one and which is a terrible one.”
Additional reporting by Daniela Galarza
Update 10/3/17 1:30 p.m.: A representative for Shake Shack says that Garutti misspoke when asked about the number of employees the company would hire for its new Astor Place location. There will not be “double” the number of staff in the back-of-house; rather, there will be double the amount of kitchen equipment. The company expects to hire a “similar” number of staff for its newest NYC location.