New York restaurants forced to take this jaw-dropping action to cut costs

As restaurants struggle to stay afloat in California, similar businesses in places like New York City are also having a tough time keeping their doors open.

Thanks to high minimum wage hikes in liberal states and cities, many restaurants can’t stay in business.

Now some eateries in New York City are taking drastic measures to keep overhead costs as low as possible.

NYC restaurants are using foreign virtual hosts

Several restaurants in New York City have implemented a new way to provide service to their customers: hiring virtual assistants from halfway across the globe.

These “virtual hosts” are a bellwether of the changing restaurant industry as small business owners look for new ways to cut costs due to rising commercial rent prices and high inflation on food and supplies.

A woman named Romy works for Sansan Chicken in Long Island, and she’s just one of 12 virtual assistants who greet customers at a handful of restaurants in New York City.

Romy, who declined to give her last name, doesn’t actually live in New York City – she lives in the Philippines.

These remote workers receive $3 an hour according to their management company, while the minimum wage in New York City is $16 an hour.

All of the workers are based in the Philippines and their faces are projected onto flatscreen monitors via Zoom.

When a customer approaches, the workers are summoned and greet patrons with a smile as they explain the items on the menu and take orders. 

However, some customers are skeptical about placing orders with people via Zoom.

Shania Ortiz, 25, spoke to The New York Times about a recent trip to Sansan Ramen, a NYC Japanese restaurant.

When she went inside, she was greeted by a gold-framed flatscreen monitor in the foyer with a surveillance camera pointing at guests.

“You hear ‘hello’ and you say, ‘What the hell is that?’ I never engage,” said Ortiz.

The virtual host service was developed by 34-year-old Chi Zhang, the founder of Happy Cashier, a virtual assistant company that just went viral after a social media post was made about the overseas workers.

However, the service started testing back in October even though the company website still isn’t live. 

This new technology is available in Queens, Manhattan, and Jersey City, NJ at Sansan Ramen, Sansan Chicken, and Yaso Kitchen, a soup dumpling restaurant.

Two other Chinese restaurants are using the service on Long Island, but they asked not to be named, Zhang said.

Restaurants are being squeezed

Restaurant owners have always had fairly low margins, but they’re being squeezed even more thanks to high rents, wages, and inflation.

Zhang, the former owner of a Shanghainese restaurant in downtown Brooklyn, said that his virtual assistant model is similar to overseas call centers and could help to maximize retail space and improve store efficiency.

The virtual assistants also coordinate food delivery orders, take phone calls, and oversee the restaurants’ review pages online, but they can’t manage cash transactions.

The workers are directly employed by Happy Cashier and not the restaurants and their $3 per hour wage is almost double what some workers receive in the Philippines, according to Mr. Zhang.

So far, it seems the new technology is growing in popularity, and Zhang said he expects the service to hire more virtual assistants for over 100 restaurants throughout the state by the end of this year.

Stay tuned to Blue State Blues for any updates to this ongoing story.

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