The Future of Fast Food? Cashiers Take Orders from 8,000 Miles Away

A Manhattan location uses cashiers who live in the Philippines.

April 10, 2024

At Sansan Chicken in the East Village of Manhattan, a cashier will greet customers with a wave and a smile—but they’ll be over 8,500 miles away. Instead of a human standing in front of customers, they’ll instead see a face on a screen, working over video chat—from the Philippines.

Happy Cashier is the company behind the virtual cashiers, and a spokesperson confirmed that it hires employees from the Philippines to video call into the restaurant, reported Fortune.

According to the article, Sansan’s virtual cashiers are part of a growing movement to limit the number of human workers in a store at a given time. In the fast-food industry, companies are looking to grow profit margins in a time of increasing wages.

QSRs “have a clear niche; they're not going to revolutionize their offering,” Daron Acemoglu, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Fortune. “Their brand is to provide relatively cheap food, so labor costs matter more for them.”

Labor accounts for 36% of an average restaurant’s costs, according to a March Bank of America note, and using automation to cut down on repetitive tasks while outsourcing labor to foreign workers could be a way to save money.

Mohammad Rahman, professor of management at the Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business at Purdue University, told Fortune that hiring virtual workers, including those from the Philippines, would cost restaurants like Sansan only 10% of what they would pay in-person cashiers.

Virtual workers such as the ones at Sansan strike the sweet spot of automation, Rahman argued. While they save on labor costs, they provide the troubleshooting ability and warmth that completely automated self-service kiosks don’t have.

“Customers expect better services, so if you can bring in that person who is basically virtually there, this person can do all your customer service, just as if the server was just standing there,” he said. “As long as that experience is the same, the customer probably doesn’t care.”

Read the full article from Fortune here and read more about the virtual cashiers in the New York Post.