freshii virtual cashier

Freshii still using controversial virtual cashier in Toronto despite backlash

Six months have passed since it was revealed a certain Toronto-based food business was using virtual cashiers and despite major backlash, the system is still being used.

Back in April the Toronto Star broke the news that Freshii had opted to use a virtual system, known as Percy, that connects customers and cashiers via video in some of their restaurants. 

The catch? The cashiers were located continents away in South America and Asia.  

Just as quickly as the story broke Freshii was met with mountains of backlash, accusing them of exploiting workers overseas, allowing them to pay virtual cashiers the minimum wage in their home country - which in same cases is far, far less than the Ontario minimum wage.

Another issue was that many worried this was just the beginning of reducing local jobs.

Head into participating Freshii locations and despite seeing humans behind the counter preparing bowls, wraps and smoothies, customers will have to use Percy to order.

The screen lights up and a video starts, showing a person ready to take your order.

The article from the Star reported that some cashiers were paid as little as $3.75 and of course, the public demanded Freshii stop using them.

Backlash came from far and wide, including the Canadian Labour Congress and other politicians.

Since then, the CEO and founder of Freshii Matthew Corrin stepped down to the position of executive chairman as stock prices dropped.

But half a year later, stepping into the Rosedale location and you'll still be met with a Percy system. There are humans preparing smoothies - but not taking your order. 

Freshii, which has almost 300 locations in Canada, declined to comment on why the system is still being used despite ample backlash. However, a representative from Percy did speak with me. 

Angela Argo, co-founder, told me that Percy always pays its workers more than minimum wage, sometimes six times as much.

When I asked her about the criticism Percy received after the Toronto Star article, she said the company is not anti-labour at all.

She also talked about the cost of living in Bolivia and Nicaragua (where many Percy employees work and live) and said workers there are able to support their family by working with Percy.

In terms of these Percy systems eliminating jobs, Argo said it's being used because restaurant owners can't hire employees, not because they want to get rid of them.

"Look at McDonalds, they're giving away iPhones and still can't hire," she said.

Percy also has the ability to provide stability to employers when a staff member calls in sick, filling their position within minutes. 

Argo also points to self-serve kiosks at McDonalds, which are actually eliminating jobs and forcing customers to do the work themselves whereas Perry is "supplementing" the labour worker and keeping face-to-face interactions alive. 

So what happens if the labour market gets better and employers can fill  positions? Argo said Percy is "not afraid of prosperity in the industry" and will continue to adapt.

The Percy website maintains the system helps employers hire during labour shortage or provide stability to understaffed establishments.

"Percy is named after the reliable and eager-to-please tank engine from 'Thomas and Friends' and is designed to alleviate the restaurant industry’s labor shortages, by creating a dependable and human solution for the ordering/cashier process," reads their page.

Argo confirmed that around 60 brands use Percy but she could not tell me which ones. 

Of course not everyone was ready to dump on Percy. Some compared it to the newly introduced robot servers, which have been spotted at Toronto restaurants.

Readers of blogTO informed us that the College Park, University & Elm and Bay & Wellellesly locations have human cashiers so it appears Rosedale is the outlier.

Did Freshii cave from the backlash? Appears not. 

Lead photo by

Sabrina Gamrot

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