Shake Shack’s Grand Cashless Experiment Has Failed

Posted: May 05, 2018

Shake Shack’s Grand Cashless Experiment Has Failed

Fast casual burger chain Shake Shack is axing its plans to go cashless after receiving complaints from customers wishing to pay with legal tender. The company will begin adding cashiers at its cashless kiosk restaurants, according to Market Insider, ending a short-lived experiment of only accepting cards some locations.

The company rolled out its first cash-free kiosk location at Astor Place in the East Village last fall. Instead of cashiers, the restaurant featured “hospitality champs” whose job was to assist customers in navigating the new ordering technology; in a press release, the chain called the move one that “demonstrates Shake Shack’s commitment to digital hospitality.”

But diners, it appears, have revolted. “In the first rollout at Astor Place, we did not accept cash at all, and there are people who have told us very clearly ‘we want to pay with cash,’’ Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti told stock market analysts of the decision. “So in this next phase, we’re going to go ahead and have cashiers as well as kiosks.”

Many restaurant groups are moving in the direction of only accepting cards; and Shake Shack’s adoption of the practice seemed to signal the tide was moving more toward cashless restaurants. Proponents of the model say that it reduces transaction times (something Eater NY critic Robert Sietsema observed during a visit to the Astor Place Shake Shack last fall) and reduces labor costs because employees don’t have to collect, count, record, and deposit money.

Refusing to accept cash is not technically illegal in the U.S. (with the exception of businesses in Massachusetts), but the cashless policy seemed to run counter to founder Danny Meyer’s famous business philosophy. “How could the guy who wrote the book on hospitality not accept legal tender, the most egalitarian system of payment in the U.S.?” Eater contributor Melissa McCart wondered earlier this year. Those without a permanent address, a minimum balance in their bank accounts, and identification are unable to acquire debit or credit cards — but not so with cash. “Going cashless,” McCart wrote, “boxes people out and reinforces the stratification of society, between the young and old, rich and poor, and the legal and undocumented customers in all the diverse corners of the United States.”

Many customers at Shake Shack’s cash-free Astor Place location hated the cashless practice, and some turned to online reviews to vent about cashless kiosks. “You have to order at the kiosk. I placed my order and only had cash at the moment. Come to find out, they do not take cash. Only debit and credit cards. This is bad for high school kids and people that do not have a debit card or credit card. I think they need to have a better pay system,” one Yelp user lamented in March. “No cash accepted.. order on ipads.. half the costumers dont [sic] know how to use it to order,” a Google commenter wrote.

While it may be going back to using some traditional cashiers, the chain isn’t entirely abandoning its kiosk tech. Shake Shack plans to add kiosks to “four or five” Shake Shacks before the close of the second quarter.

By Brenna Houck
May 4, 2018 

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