Not so long ago, in October 2017, Shake Shack opened the first of its locations where ordering and paying for food took place entirely on a self-service kiosk, with no human interaction. As the opening’s corresponding press release went, the self-service concept store was supposed to result in  fewer lines, less wait time and quicker speed of service at every channel.

Unfortunately that did not happen, and now Shake Shack is abandoning the concept after a barrage of complaints from unhappy customers.

Some choice remarks, courtesy of Grub Street’s curation, include oh-so-subtle lines like, “The new kiosk ordering system is the worst” and “The kiosks are also supposed to make things go quicker, but the wait is even longer.” And some folks weren’t even aware that the restaurant was a self-service, cashless store: “I placed my order and only had cash at the moment. Come to find out, they do not take cash.”

The company said it will add cashiers to the controversial Astor Place location in addition to the kiosks. “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,'” CEO Randy Garutti said during a conference call on Thursday.

Interestingly, around the time last year when Shake Shack was opening its self-serve location, another company, Eatsa, was shuttering many of its human-less restaurant storefronts, so Shake Shack’s hardly alone in terms of offering something consumers may not quite be ready for.

More than anything, this move from Shake Shack underscores some fairly hefty issues with the concept of self-serve, cashless restaurants. Machines lower the risk of incorrect orders, but machines also break down (or just confuse people). Cashless payments are safer for employees, since there’s no till to rob, but if you’re not a national chain like Shake Shack, they can be quite costly for the restaurant.

And they’re potentially alienating, which is probably the biggest hurdle, as this news from Shake Shack illustrates. Consider a place like NYC, where all walks of life abound. A cashless system excludes poor people who may not carry plastic, after-school teenagers, and those who live on the street or in shelters and halfway houses. Even in Sweden, who seems hellbent on becoming the world’s first cashless society, there are concerns about problems these concepts present for elderly and disabled individuals.

In fact, that seems to be the general consensus of late: self-order stations and cashless restaurants are a wonderful idea, but until we can figure out a way to make them more inclusive and beneficial to everyone, they may not necessarily be the wisest choice for a business.


  1. It really shouldn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” strategy; self service is a benefit to a customer service strategy if properly conceived, designed, tested, and deployed. As part of the strategy there should be a process to handle cash since most QSRs see at least 15-30% of their business pay in cash. The idea of abandoning self-service because of an error in strategy is short-sighted. I would also contend in this day and age that if their kiosks are breaking down they have the wrong type of hardware. A progressive organization is always moving forward with their initiatives, never backward.

  2. The idea of a human less restaurant is counter-intuitive to human nature. People are social animals. One of Madlow’s higher needs on his pyramid is belonging, which can only come from true human connection — virtual connection doesn’t count (and can often be a detriment). With all of society’s focus on convenience, e-commerce and working remotely, restaurants may become one of the last remaining sources of secular human interaction. That should be celebrated, not torn apart.

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