Sansan Ramen
New York City restaurants are using video screens with remote Filipino workers to greet and serve customers. (Sansan Ramen/Instagram)

A New York City restaurant chain has found a unique way to save on labour costs - replacing in-person staff with virtual greeters and cashiers. These Filipino hostesses on Zoom calls assist customers through screens. Despite the lack of in-person staff, they still expect customers to tip.

The restaurants, specialising in fried chicken and ramen, leverage the huge wage gap between New York City's £12.74 ($16) minimum wage and the Philippines' £2.99 ($3.75) hourly rate.

Sansan Ramen, a Long Island City ramen shop in Queens, is among five restaurants utilising a remote hostess system. Customers are greeted by a hostess in the Philippines appearing on a screen upon arrival.

Despite the use of remote hostesses, customers at Sansan Chicken, Sansan Ramen, and Yaso Kitchen (locations across Manhattan, Queens, and Jersey City) are still encouraged to leave a tip, with options up to 18% added to their bill.

A reporter for The Post recently visited Sansan Chicken in Long Island City, where they encountered Pie, a 33-year-old hostess, working remotely from her living room in Subic, Philippines. Employed by Happy Cashier, Pie expressed enthusiasm for her remote hostess role.

Though tight-lipped about her salary, Pie, the enthusiastic remote hostess, revealed that customers occasionally leave sizable tips. Her record haul was a £31.86 ($40) tip at Yaso Kitchen, Jersey City. It's important to note that these tips are shared with her manager and the restaurant's kitchen staff.

NYC Chain Sparks Debate With Video Greeters

The concept of remote hostesses has understandably received mixed reactions from customers. Some embrace the unique experience, while others feel the absence of a physical host removes a personal touch they value.

"I think you lose an element of connecting with someone when they're not physically there," one customer named Catherine said outside Sansan Ramen in LIC.

"I also don't know if it's taking a job away from someone, as well. I think it's important that we're supporting our communities, and having people from the community connecting with their clientele."

Details about some of the aspects of this system are still few and far between. For instance, the employment structure is ambiguous, leaving it uncertain whether the hostesses are directly employed by the restaurants or work for a separate agency.

Moreover, the ownership structure of the restaurants and the compensation provided to the hostesses remain shrouded in secrecy. The lack of transparency surrounding this remote hostess system raises concerns, especially following a March incident where a Wendy's manager was caught collecting a salary for a fictitious employee.

Adding to the concerns, a recent study cautioned against the overuse of virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meet, raising questions about the suitability of such technology for extended customer interactions in a restaurant setting.

Despite combining tipping and outsourcing jobs, two of Americans' least favourite things, Brett Goldstein, a 33-year-old tech entrepreneur who posted about Sansan Chicken on Mercer Street in Manhattan in a now-viral thread on X, noted the remote staffers are a "clear way to cut costs."

"Today, this is a Filipino woman behind a screen, controlling a POS system — but it's not crazy to believe that probably in the next six to twelve months, this could be an AI avatar doing all the same things," he said.