- Startup Bite Ninja allows fast-food restaurants to hire virtual cashiers during peak hours.
- 3,000 gig workers take drive-thru orders from remote locations via a Zoom-like setup.
- Created by the co-founder of Memphis Meats, Bite Ninja looks to resolve restaurant hiring woes.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In early 2020, entrepreneur Will Clem, co-founder of the lab-grown meat company Memphis Meats, faced another busy and understaffed weekend at the local fast-food barbecue restaurant, Baby Jack’s, he owns in Tennessee.
With roughly 70% of orders coming through the drive-thru, Clem knew the restaurant would be slammed. To help the team take drive-thru orders, he hacked his way into the company’s custom-built point-of-sale system from his laptop and began taking orders from his home office – 15 miles from the Memphis restaurant.
A few months later as the pandemic forced restaurants to serve customers through delivery, drive-thru, and takeout, Clem added a video component. Clem and his business partner Orin Wilson turned the remote cashier experiment into a new company, Bite Ninja.
Clem, a self-described serial entrepreneur, said the bootstrapped tech platform can help solve the constant churn of fast-food workers in the business. Hiring woes have hampered the industry long before the pandemic, but the crisis is reaching a peak lately as restaurant visits return to pre-pandemic levels.
Chains and independent restaurants are having trouble finding enough workers to staff restaurants, forcing some to reduce hours or host hiring parties to find workers. On Wednesday, KFC said it was looking to hire 20,000 part-time and full-time positions nationwide. A McDonald’s operator in Florida is offering job candidates a $50 cash teaser to get them in the door.
“Restaurants are struggling, barely hanging on in some cases,” Clem said. “There’s a hiring challenge really facing our entire industry.”
Demand is high for virtual cashiers
In February 2021, after months of beta-testing at Clem’s three restaurants, Bite Ninja made its official launch.
The startup has now amassed 3,000 gig workers trained to take fast-food orders remotely from anywhere in the US.
The Bite Ninja co-founders told Insider that they have four major fast-food brands ready to deploy their virtual cashiers at 250 locations. Notable investors are also calling, though official funding rounds have yet to be disclosed, the owners said.
“In the last couple of months, it’s really taken off,” Wilson said.
The main attraction for fast-food operators goes beyond filling busy hourly shifts.
Wilson and Clem said restaurants like the idea of paying for gig workers for two or three hours, instead of a full eight-hour shift.
Clem said Bite Ninja is also tapping into a new workforce for fast-food restaurants, which historically have relied on teenagers to fill entry-level jobs like cashiers. Bite Ninja’s gig workers include stay-at-home moms and workers with health conditions who might not be ready to work inside a restaurant, Clem said.
“It’s reaching a new group of people,” he said.
Bite Ninja declined to disclose the hourly rate of its workers for competitive reasons. Wilson said Bite Ninja virtual workers have a universal base pay that can increase based on “surge rates” applied during peak demand times. Remote workers can also earn higher pay for “proving themselves proficient at certain skills like up-selling,” Wilson told Insider in an email.
Bite Ninja guarantees a return on investment
During the pandemic, Clem and Wilson developed early versions of Bite Ninja from Clem’s garage. Initially, they did audio-only but decided it would be better to have video ordering with a monitor.
A metal kiosk houses a 55-inch monitor that displays the menu and the worker on one screen.
The gig workers, who have been recruited through LinkedIn or social media platforms such as Instagram, are taking orders from across the US. Bite Ninja promotes the gig work as a customer service representative role instead of fast food cashier to “broaden the market for this particular type of role,” Wilson said.
When a car enters the drive-thru, they are greeted by a “Ninja” who is working remotely. The virtual cashier appears at the top of the screen, taking orders in a
-like conference call setting.
Cashiers are able to share their screen to review a customer’s order to ensure accuracy.
Upselling is automated on the screen and supported by the virtual worker, who goes through online customer service training before being given a shift.
That training is making a difference at Clem’s three restaurants in Memphis, where Bite Ninja has been operating for about a year. Sales have gone up 23% at Clem’s fast-food restaurants.
“We average $40 an hour more in upsells,” he said.
As such, Clem and Wilson have developed a fee strategy that they say will guarantee restaurants a return on their investment. New customers get a 30-day free trial of the software and, in some cases, Bite Ninja will provide free equipment and installation.
Restaurants only pay for when they use the system. For example, an average fee structure is $28 an hour, which covers Bite Ninja’s fees and payment to the gig worker.
“The higher prices come with more guarantees,” Clem told Insider.
At $28 an hour, Wilson said Bite Ninja guarantees that the restaurant will make an additional $50 an hour more than without Bite Ninja.
“If we do not meet that guarantee, the fee drops to $15 an hour,” Wilson told Insider in an email.
As Bite Ninja is installed in fast food restaurants all over the US, the owners foresee a workforce that strings together two and three-hour shifts in different timezones.
Once a shift is over, Bite Ninja pays the workers instantly through an electronic deposit.
Because cashiers are working when they want, Clem said they tend to be happier, which makes for a much better experience for the guest.
Managers at Clem’s three fast-food restaurants are calling Bite Ninja a gamechanger.
“We would pull into some of these stores after a Friday night and we’re literally getting hugged by these managers saying, ‘Thank you. This has made our night so much less stressful. The customers love it. The crew loves it. You gave us the help that we needed,'” Clem said.