A New York Restaurant Group Is Testing Out Zoom Cashiers And We Are Shook

Just when you thought we were past the era when Zoom facilitated everyday interactions, a New York restaurant group has its cashiers dialing in to confirm payment as you pick up your takeout. So far, five locations of the restaurants Sansan Chicken, Sansan Ramen, and Yaso Kitchen, which span Manhattan, Queens, Jersey City, and Long Island City are trying out this new category of remote work. The trend was first noted at Sansan Chicken in the East Village — an outlet that resembles countless other takeout spots with its touchscreen automated ordering kiosk. However, it also has an additional screen where you'll find the remote cashier who — if you prefer a human over tech — will greet you when you walk in and take your order.

Everything about this arrangement seems to suggest it's still in the trial phase, from the rudimentary screen and speakers on the counter to the fact that the Zoom meeting I.D. and password used to dial in the cashier (in case the call drops?) are written on a piece of paper stuck to the counter. Some online customer accounts even saw an in-person cashier and a Zoom cashier working side by side in the early phases of the rollout. So while customers still have the option of dealing with a human or a machine to place their order, at least at these spots, they're going to be doing so using a screen. 

It's all about cutting costs

Most of the people physically present at the Sansan and Yaso locations are those preparing the food and placing your order in the pickup window. Not surprisingly, the objective behind the Zoom cashier is cost-cutting; it's much cheaper to pay someone in the Philippines to carry out these duties than to hire someone in New York, where the minimum wage is $16 per hour. Though in a slightly different context, this kind of outsourcing is not dissimilar to the tech support teams large companies often leverage on the other side of the planet. 

When asked by 404 Media about its Zoom cashiers, the manager of Sansan Chicken implied as much, pointing to the high cost of local workers and the need for businesses to control costs. Based in the Philippines, the cashiers aren't directly employed by the restaurants but claim to work for a company named Happy Cashier. However, according to reports, they still get the tips. 

A quick online search on the Philippines' Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry yields dozens of companies that offer call center, virtual assistant, tech support, and other lead generation services. It's plausible that a person can remotely handle most of the tasks a cashier would, except for actually handling cash. Considering the East Village location still has a physical cash register, an in-person cashier might be present at some points during the day to manage the transition or just help out with the lunch rush. 

The pros and cons of Sansan Chicken's Zoom cashier

Cost-cutting can have mixed results, even in the best of times. Often, the savings are passed on to customers, like Aldi's shopping carts, which require a quarter to use so the company can reduce staffing costs. Other times, it can hurt the customer experience. At the moment, the Zoom cashiers seem to fall somewhere in between, and while the restaurant group will surely improve processes, success will depend largely on public reception. 

Fast Asian takeout (in this case, fried chicken and ramen bowls) is a competitive segment in the city, and this is one way the group is hoping to maintain its edge. In an era where bars and cafes are testing robot bartenders and baristas, here you'll at least get to speak to a human. However, things may not feel all that natural when you experience a lag between you saying something and the cashier responding. Most of us will tolerate this when on the clock, but perhaps not when we're trying to order crispy fried chicken.

The East Village outlet also claims to be a late-night eatery, which may work well given that the time difference between New York and the Philippines is 12 hours (during daylight saving time). However, only time will tell whether the Zoom cashier becomes the new normal or exists as a blip in the ever-evolving landscape of how we get our grub.