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Doing away with cash
A basket of Shake Shack pagers. Bloomberg News
What makes Shake Shack's cashless store so potentially powerful — even if it's only one location in Manhattan — is what the burger chain can do when every customer is known to it.

Suppressing cash is simply the first step. Through the Astor Place location's use of kiosks and a text messaging system that replaces the pagers it uses at other locations to let patrons know an order is ready, Shake Shack can greatly deepen its relationship with each customer while also slashing its own operational costs.

The typical Shake Shack ordering process involves standing in one of two lines to order (one for food and drink, and a faster line for only drinks), paying a cashier, then waiting again for the pager to buzz when the order is ready. The system results in such long lines that Shake Shack provides a "Shack Cam" on its website to allow customers to judge whether they can bother with the wait at its store in New York's Madison Square Park.

Almost all of this process is removed in the company's new model, which relies on kiosks or a mobile device and — crucially — collects the customer's phone number as part of the ordering process so that it can send a text alert when the food is ready.

"Beyond eliminating cash it's about eliminating the point of sale. That's a game changer," said Richard Crone, a payments consultant and researcher.

It's clear that this purely digital system opens new possibilities that might have been just out of reach in a system that still allows cash.

Shake Shack already has an order-ahead app, which should of course be compatible with the new location. The app lets users select a location and pickup time, and remembers customers by either creating a Shake Shack account or asking them to link a Facebook or Google account. In this model, the app handles the payment and also doubles as the buzzer — but one look at the Shack Cam is enough to show that many customers still pay the old fashioned way.