Virtual cashiers and the world of outsourcing service jobs : Planet Money : NPR


Percy Cashier Carla, who telecommutes from Nicaragua to Toronto, speaking with Planet Money host Amanda Aronczyk.

Amanda Aronczyk/NPR


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Amanda Aronczyk/NPR


Percy Cashier Carla, who telecommutes from Nicaragua to Toronto, speaking with Planet Money host Amanda Aronczyk.

Amanda Aronczyk/NPR

Earlier this year, the fast food chain Freshii came under fire for using virtual cashiers to ring up customers in Toronto. Instead of a friendly clerk standing behind the counter, asking if guests found everything to their liking, there was a face on a screen asking them that same question from a different country, thousands of thousands away. This really felt off to a lot of people.

Partly this came from customers’ unfamiliarity with the new technology, but partly it came from real concerns about offshoring a job that many had believed could only ever be done in person. Would these virtual workers destroy jobs at home? Was the person on the screen being paid fairly? Why weren’t Canadian cashiers being offered higher wages instead?

For the food service industry, though, new experiments like the virtual cashier represent a real temptation. Restaurants took a massive hit during the pandemic, particularly in places with strict lockdowns. People avoided restaurants. Business dried up. On top of that, many employers found it difficult to hire and retain workers.

On today’s episode we take a look at some of the strategies restaurants are trying out to lower their labor costs. We’ll visit a robot barista, a pizza ATM, and a cashier who telecommutes from thousands of miles away.

Music: “Hip To The Hustle,” “Aristopups,” “What We Want,” and “Funky Stroll.”

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