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McDonald’s Replacing Cashiers With Machines?

McDonald’s Replacing Cashiers With Machines?

“Would you like fries with that?” may soon be a long forgotten relic of American pop culture.

McDonald’s employees who picketed for a better living wage (whatever that means) may come to regret that decision. According to a Redditor, a McDonald’s in Illinois replaced their cashiers with machines.  The machines appear to be the cousins of the ones found in grocery stores, big box stores, and CVS that allow customers to complete transactions.

How cost effective is replacing an organic employee with a mechanized one? According to an economic blog, and unsurprisingly, the machines likely come out on top in terms of pricing:

  • For a location open 24 hours: The cost of human cashiers, not counting benefits, $15/hour * 24 hours * 365 days/year = $131,400

  • For a location open 6AM to Midnight:  $15/hour * 18 hours * 365 = $98,550.

  • For the machine to be cost effective, all it needs to do is cost less than $100,000 a year to buy and maintain.

Who could’ve possibly seen this coming? Forbes. They predicted this exact scenario last July.

recent article at the Huffington Post makes the claim that if McDonald’s MCD +0.26% doubled its employees salaries it would only cause the price of a Big Mac to go up by 68 cents. The implication here is that 68 cents isn’t much money, so they should do it. There’s a few things missing from this.

One is that the article itself alleges that doubling wages would lead to a 17% increase in costs. And I guess this is obviously supposed to seem like a small amount? It doesn’t look that way to me. What do people expect will happen when prices go up 17%? If McDonald’s could raise its prices by that much without lowering demand they would. No, what would happen is people would shop at those stores less, there would be less profit and less McDonald’s stores to hire workers.

Doubling of labor costs will simply increase a fast food restaurant’s incentives to adopt technology like this. And if fast food wages doubled everywhere it would spur the development of these technologies even faster.

This is all basic economics, really. As costs of labor increase the added cost must be offset. In order to satisfy operating costs, produce a product consumers want to purchase, and still turn a profit, it’s perfectly reasonable for a company like McDonald’s to look for cost-cutting alternatives. As Forbes pointed out, the added pressure to increase wages only serves to expedite technological solutions.

But cooks are safe from the machination of American fast food, right?

Not if companies like Momentum Machines has anything to do with it. “Our technology will democratize access to high quality food making it available to the masses,” their site claims. They also claim their burger making machines can, “do everything employees do except better” and that the machines reap such large labor savings, restaurants will be able to afford twice as fancy ingredients. Tempting little proposition they have there.

“Would you like fries with that?” may soon be a long forgotten relic of American pop culture. And all because it makes good economic sense.

Update (WAJ): Prof. Reynolds notes that Robot makers must be loving the recent NLRB ruling, as well, which held McDonald’s parent corporation liable for franchisee employment practices. Can a kiosk file an employment grievance?

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cue the gnashing of teeth and protestations about greedy corporations from the prog drone army in 3…..2……1……

The first Luddites were weavers who feared the mechanization of their craft. Mechanization always. Always leads to lower cost.

It’s been the driver of technical innovation for thousands of years.

Only after the drastic reduction in the slave trade did the drive for mechanization reach into areas where previously they could never reach. Because of the need for manipulation of material to produce goods is a requirement. Now that sufficient computing power and data storage is available, more and more operations can be done by mechanical devices.

Soon the majority will no longer have a job or a purpose. This is also the driving force behind government supervision of medical care; so as to control and in the future reduce the population. (if you think that’s tin foil hattery, think again and google Liverpool Care Pathway).

    Ragspierre in reply to jakee308. | August 9, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Saboteur was the term coined for mill-workers of their day who used their wooden shoes (the Crocs of the day) or ‘sabot’ to screw up the works of the machines.

    You push producers too hard, and they WILL find innovative ways to stay alive. You always have motivated, talented people who are eager to bring innovation to markets.

    And, with automated ordering and robotic production, you will have no issues with your order being wrong, or anyone spitting in your burger. And almost nobody suing you because they were burned by the fryer. And no scheduling issues because people could not drag themselves out of the crib.

      Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Ragspierre. | August 9, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      RE: “You push producers too hard, and they WILL find innovative ways to stay alive.”

      NOT ONLY THAT, but their Customers will eagerly help them to do so!

      That’s what the Wal-Mart haters don’t understand – let along consider (since Wal-Mart haters are elitist nar-do-wells with too much money – Snark Snark).

      “And, with automated ordering and robotic production, you will have no issues with your order being wrong, or anyone spitting in your burger. And almost nobody suing you because they were burned by the fryer.”

      More of your usual crap.

      Automated ordering has NOTHING to do with robotic production. *IF* they had robotic production, it could be as easily tied into their existing POS terminals, which already transmit the data to the monitors at the production stations anyway. As easy to point that cable to a robot controller.

        Ragspierre in reply to pjm. | August 9, 2014 at 2:36 pm

        Yeah, stupid, that’s why I mentioned them BOTH and separately.

        See, you COULD still easily have errors in your order when it passed through a human intermediary, regardless of HOW it is produced.

          “Yeah, stupid, that’s why I mentioned them BOTH and separately.”

          Bull. You said

          “automated ordering and robotic production….”

          Which COMBINES THEM INTO ONE THOUGHT, rather than separating the concepts as you pretend. Where, if anywhere at all, did you learn English ?

          “See, you COULD still easily have errors in your order when it passed through a human intermediary, regardless of HOW it is produced.”

          And, for that matter, you *WILL* still have ordering errors, made by the often illiterate Mc’D’s customer, rarely paying attention, when they say ‘Oh, I didn’t see that that little picture was a fish not a cow’, or ‘I thought pushing that picture of a pickle meant ‘extra’, not ‘none’.

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | August 9, 2014 at 2:47 pm

          I’ll just leave that gigantic cluster of BS and stupid hanging…right there…for all to see.

          Thanks.

        does it hurt?
        I have a theory posting stupid crap hurts and am hoping you can help prove or disprove that with more of your usual crap.

Subotai Bahadur | August 9, 2014 at 2:13 pm

What you are seeing is a test market. If McDonalds customers accept the concept of self-serve/non-cash ordering, it will spread. I note that the fast food marketplace is a harder one to crack for this because much of their clientele does not have a debit/credit card [other than perhaps an EBT] and/or the decision where to “grab lunch” is spur of the moment based on proximity and amount of small change in your pocket. Sit down places like Chili’s which is starting to replace wait staff with table top computers for ordering have a better shot at it. The server will only deliver the food from the kitchen and bus tables; not developing the interaction for tips.

If McDonald’s customers at a particular site accept the kiosk, it would be child’s play to interface them with the Momentum machines. And so staffing plummets again.

I also note that the P/L figures above are based solely on wages. Wages are only part of what an employer has to pay for each flesh and blood employee. It varies by location [and is higher in places where a $15/hr minimum wage are more likely] but taxes, healthcare, workman’s comp., liability insurance, and various fees and kickbacks to unionized government employees can be up to half of the wage. And of course there is the additional cost of having to have accountants and a human resources department to deal with employees. HR departments being pure drains on profit that produce nothing and interfere with operations.

    Phillep Harding in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | August 9, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    ” I note that the fast food marketplace is a harder one to crack for this because much of their clientele does not have a debit/credit card”

    Buy something from a vending machine recently? A mix of coins and bills is not impossible for them to deal with.

    Unless the the FRNs are too worn, of course.

      Subotai Bahadur in reply to Phillep Harding. | August 9, 2014 at 5:22 pm

      Look at that kiosk. Unlike the ones at the self checkout stations at grocery stores, it does not have the larger and more complex [and expensive] attachment to take cash/coins. Only a card reader. They may, eventually, but the set up shown does not have it. If it is like the ones at my grocery store, which have the cash machine, it requires one staff for 6 self-checkout stations. It is cash and checks that usually cause the need for human intervention at the station. If they are going to try to automate the process, they will probably try to keep the card only system.

        DGFleagle in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | August 9, 2014 at 7:43 pm

        I live in Pennsylvania, where there is a popular chain of convenience stores called “Sheetz” that already uses these machines. I can tell you from experience that they are wonderful. Walk up to the machine, tap some icons on the screen, change your order if you like, then accept it. It prints a ticket that you take to the counter, where you can pay with a credit card, debit card, gift card, or a Ziploc bag filled with pennies if you like. And after several years of ordering food this way, I have had a mistake on only one order.

        The stores are invariably clean, and the gas prices are competitive. The ability to order food via those kiosks is an incentive for me to hunt down a Sheetz when I am traveling and need a quick sandwich. They also help their employees pay for college.

        http://sheetzjobz.com/educational-assistance.html

    stevewhitemd in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | August 14, 2014 at 7:59 am

    McDonalds has plenty of customers who are gainfully employed and do not have (or want) an EBT.

    Me for instance, when I was on the road this weekend.

    McDonalds has a target market, but they don’t have caricatures for customers.

I am rather surprised that automation hasn’t long ago already replaced human workers at fast-food joints. In the mid-60’s to early 70’s, my grandparents used to take us kids to a place that was called “Clifton’s Cafeteria” when were little children. It was almost completely automated, with just a few employees on duty at any given time, including the cashier. The menu was vast, the service was fast, and highly efficient. Food was transported on ceiling mounted rails and on counter-top conveyors. Push the button(s) for what you wanted, and there it is in short order, ready to eat, hot or cold, fast, and delicious. Full hot and/or cold meals, or just a snack or treat. Whatever you wanted. Grandma used to pilfer the courtesy breadsticks, sugar packets, and just about anything else edible that she could. Due to her perpetually hungry youth spent in the Great Depression, I imagine. I really loved that place. I always thought it was quite modern and ‘space-aged’.

    Ragspierre in reply to FlatFoot. | August 9, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    You’ll find the “automat” preserved in a lot of movies from the 30s and 40s.

    Very popular with the hoi-palloi of the day.

    http://ts1.mm.bing.net/th?id=HN.608014610255315042&w=80&h=80&c=8&pid=3.1&qlt=90&rm=2

      Did you say “hoi polloi?” I represent that.

      McDs needs to do something. Their stock has tumbled here and abroad due to the China meat issue and same store sales have been lagging. People everywhere are counting on them to profit.

      Jack-in-the-Box is doing better. Machine tellers would fit the name.

      “Hi, this is Jack. May I take your order?”

        Ragspierre in reply to jennifer a johnson. | August 9, 2014 at 4:18 pm

        Hey, it would beat the heck outta, “Hi, I’m _______. May I jack your order…???”

        But we’re already seeing touch-screen POS in the drive-in lanes of a lot of fast-food places, and there is no voice involved. (Which I love, since most of the speakers made human voices unintelligible).

        You input what you want, and it gives you a confirmation so you can check it (hence, errors belonga you, contra the moron above).

        That makes it HARDER…but not impossible…for the human element in the location to mess it up.

          “Which I love, since most of the speakers made human voices unintelligible.”

          You, on the other hand, use a keyboard to do that task for you.

          “You input what you want, and it gives you a confirmation so you can check it (hence, errors belonga you, contra the moron above).”

          Oh, I can see that one now at the counter. ‘Sorry, sir, what’s in the bag matches what’s on the receipt, so STFU and eat what you ordered, it’s your fault’.

          Uh huh. THAT will work…… not

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | August 9, 2014 at 4:58 pm

          What I write is intelligible to people of even moderate intelligence.

          Even you understand a lot of it. And even when you SAY you DON’T comprehend, it is often because you are just trying to get a fight going.

          As everyone here appreciates.

          If I walk up to an automated check-out at the grocery and swipe my purchases, would you say I had any basis for a complaint with my purchase, moron?

          Same-same with a fast food order. You entered what you wanted, reviewed it, and had a chance to change it.

          Now, I DO get this presents YOU some issues. Nuthin I can do to hep you, pard.

I look forward to McDonald’s installing these machines and firing all their workers, then going out of business a few months later when no one can afford to eat there.

But the 1%er BSD MBA CEO Managers will still get their Golden Parachutes…

    Ragspierre in reply to Chem_Geek. | August 9, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Serious question…

    do you EVER get tired of showing the general public what a complete economics moron you are?

    It is impossible to respond to your confused comment. You must do color commentary for Liz machine politics Warren.

    Ironic isn’t it? Progressives are NOT Progressive.

    MaggotAtBroadAndWall in reply to Chem_Geek. | August 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Actually, you have it backwards. Improving productivity increases societal wealth.

    Here’s how it works: The consumer of the cheeseburger suffers no marginal loss in utility by interacting with a machine rather than a person for his cheeseburger (here “utility” is used in the economic context that generally translates into satisfaction). Yes, the person behind the counter that you are correctly worried about will be temporarily displaced and suffer temporary hardship (which is why we have a safety net). But if the safety net is not too generous, ultimately the displaced worker will be incented to figure out something else to do with his efforts that society will benefit from.

    So society gets the benefits from the machine AND it gets whatever the temporarily displaced worker produces with his labor after he finds now work. That is how societal wealth increases and our standard of living improves.

Coming to a McDonalds near Seattle soon….

JackRussellTerrierist | August 9, 2014 at 3:59 pm

It would be a good thing for the burger flippers to hang up their aprons, go back to school to get a diploma, then attend a technical institute where they learn a skill that allows them to get a better-paying job MAKING the ordering machines.

We use self-checkout whenever possible. It’s faster and the idiot aggravation factor is almost non-existent.

    I read something the other day where some lady had worked at McD’s for 10 years at the counter, and was still making minimum wage.

    Oh well !! She learned her entire set of job skills on the first day there 10 years ago. Since then – stuck in a time warp. Somehow, she seems to think that this is the equivalent of a ‘professional career path’, with the money that brings over time.

    And after all, she has 5 kids (no husband), so she should get paid enough to support them all, and herself, flipping burgers.

      Ragspierre in reply to pjm. | August 9, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      “They just told me, you know, well, you’re being under arrest because you just interrupted, you trespassed the property. You’re just going to go to jail. And what I remember just telling them, ‘well, like, so, because I have to speak out my mind and I had to tell the president the poverty wage I’m living in, that’s just against the law?’” Salgado said.
      http://www.opposingviews.com/i/topsociety/mcdonalds-worker-nancy-salgado-arrested-protesting-during-company-president-jeff

      Soooo…. Language skills are not her forte.

      She is not a “McDonald’s employee”, per se. She’s employed by a franchisee in Chicago. Chicago. And Micky-D does not set wages for its franchisees, far as I know.

      She has two kids, 7 and 2 according to accounts, with no hubby. Which means she has some real problems with self-destructive behaviors.

        ScottTheEngineer in reply to Ragspierre. | August 11, 2014 at 10:32 am

        I work with a guy that ran one of the premiere restaurants in Lafayette, La. He started out in fast food, Developed skills over time and created a recipe catalog for his own restaurant. He sold the works for over 800K. He then lost it all do to personal problems which is why I work with him. The point is if you do well and try to excel at what you do, the money will come to you. He can turn a tuna steak into a Mona Lisa. I guess the difference is drive. He tried making me corned beef hash and it didn’t turn out well. He was pretty upset about it.

      JackRussellTerrierist in reply to pjm. | August 10, 2014 at 2:00 am

      Someone should ask her if she’s ever tried to get a better paying job. If so, where?

      TEN YEARS FLIPPING BURGERS FOR A LIVING??? (face palm)

        Yeh – Burger King 🙂

        When I was a kid, one of my summer jobs was caddying at a golf course. I think I got like $ 20 for every 18 holes.

        Should have stayed at it, I could probably be making $100,00 a year now, huh ? Still with one job skill – walking. Oh, and cleaning balls for strangers.

inspectorudy | August 9, 2014 at 4:33 pm

What the minimum wage hikers seem to forget is that innovation is usually an offshoot of rising costs. This is the commercial world’s answer to ridiculous labor costs. If what the McD employees were doing was personal and an added service for the customer’s experience then a wage hike might be in order. But when the service provided is only one of unskilled labor then automation is the simple answer. But the cost of manual labor has to reach the point where automated equipment is a better deal. Throw in obamacare and employee liability lawsuits and the machine wins hands down.

There’s an app for that. . . .

writersblock15 | August 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Here in Pennsylvania we already have machines like that in a local convenience store called Wawa.

I lived in France for almost five years, across the border from Geneva, Switzerland. About halfway through that the local McDo’s installed these.

They were fantastic, due to the language barrier. It also helps ensure the order is correct at the purchase end and removes guilt about buying a lot of food.

NC Mountain Girl | August 9, 2014 at 6:34 pm

It might also save costs when menus are reworked. Now they have to redo each menu board above the counter as well as reprogram the registers. The kiosk monitors would replace all the cost and calorie information on the menu boards. That space could again be used to market the food instead of complying with Obamacare regulations. As if fast food customers give a hoot about calorie counts.

For a sit down place like Chilis there could be an link to FAQ about each menu item, all the ingredients, how something is prepared and the rest of the questions customers might ask a waitress.

The cost per hour for cashiers is inaccurate. Forgotten, as it usually is, is the employee matching for FICA and income tax which raises the total to 17.35-17.37 per hour — not counting state and local tax.

I always thought the Automat was pretty cool.

Of course given my choice of retro futures, I’d rather have a Jetsons flying car; but Automats will do.

Particularly if somebody can program in provision for automated snappy banter with the service. Optional, of course.

They could even make the machine recognize regular customers. Then all you’d have to say is “Sure” when it asks if you want “the usual”.

A Brave New World of customer service could be dawning, all thanks to the Progressive failure to recognize basic economics.

Henry Hawkins | August 9, 2014 at 7:29 pm

In relief of progressive angst regarding tech replacing bio, I say we outlaw boat anchors and send progressives down with the line to do that job.

    Hell I say pay ’em $15/ hour after the first 30 (continuous) days underwater, too.

    As long as they have a mailing address. 🙂

How many here know that the Swiss have NO minimum wage?

It’s true. NO minimum wage. You won’t find starving, home-less people littering their streets, either. For one thing, that kind of clutter is very un-Swiss. They are very tidy.

Anybody know what the minimum wage is in South Dakota? If you guessed “a LOT”, you are right, because the MARKET sets that wage, and workers are in high demand.

The greatest protection for the worker is a THRIVING free market.

As an economic rule, a minimum wage HARMS workers by shifting the labor demand curve into LOWER demand, naturally. It is pretty much accepted by everyone. Some just say it “won’t cost too many jobs”. They tend to be Collectivists AND nippled up to nice union or university salaries.

    I love the smell of napalm retorts in the morning.

    A self-regulating contract abiding free market economy is the “mother’s milk” of human flourishing (to borrow from a common adage of Larry Kudlow)

    The Progressive’s back and forth game of-“Income Inequality/Capital Theory as Political Football” leaves concussive markets (and players) flat on their backs.

    If one is truly desirous of creating wealth for everyone then I suggest reading Milton Friedman’s and George Gilder’s books about free markets. ASAP.

      “I love the smell of napalm retorts in the morning.”

      Ah, fond memories of my Organic Chem. labs at Texas A&M…

      (We could have used Bunsen Burners, but napalm was so much more…energetic… AND plentiful…)

The original minimum wage laws in America made it impossible for itenerant black sharecroppers to compete with whites. The blacks were willing to work for lower wages than the whites. This is just smart economics; price your goods or services lower than your competition, and you’ll tend to get the business. It worked for Woolworth’s, it worked for Sears Roebuck, it would work for farm laborers. The farmers will try to minimize their costs, no matter who is doing the essentially unskilled labor. But white laborers didn’t want to work for those wages. The solution was the minimum wage. Black labor had no competitive advantage when it – by law – cost the same as white labor.

Was this an unintended consequence of a law enacted with benign intent? Were black laborers screwed over by accident?

Sure, and the first atomic bomb was made by accident, too.

A more likely reason is that it was just part of the century-long effort to keep freedmen – who were willing and able to work – isolated on the fringes of the American economy, where far too many American blacks are still trapped today.

Goddamn I detest racist scum liberals.

    Milwaukee in reply to tom swift. | August 10, 2014 at 1:30 am

    The group most likely to benefit from an increase in the minimum wage is the middle-income family with teenaged kids working minimum wage jobs. After some point in time the multiple-year employee at McDonalds should be a shift leader or assistant manager or something.

    More than 20 years ago I was on vacation in Holland and the motel had a machine which would make french fries from powdered potatoes in less than 2 minutes. About that time I worked a shift at the grill in a McDonalds. The grill work could most certainly be automated. Put frozen burgers on the grill and press a button. When the bell rang, turn it off and press on the burgers. When it rang again flip the burgers. At appropriate times add condiments and a bun and wrap. Very much primed for automating.

      tom swift in reply to Milwaukee. | August 10, 2014 at 6:27 am

      After some point in time the multiple-year employee at McDonalds should be a shift leader or assistant manager or something.

      Not everybody is potential Horatio Alger material. Some people are just unskilled laborers and will never be anything else. This should not (and, left to its own devices, generally does not) freeze them out of the economy. There are a great many things for unskilled laborers to do. However, there are also a great many people who are qualified and available to perform unskilled labor. In other words, demand is high, but so is supply. So wages are low.

      “After some point in time the multiple-year employee at McDonalds should be a shift leader or assistant manager or something.”

      And get that big $0.25 an hour raise.

      Those are the folks who have to come in off-shift on a moment’s notice if some else doesn’t show up, too.

    jakee308 in reply to tom swift. | August 10, 2014 at 4:02 am

    Those aren’t very good examples. Woolworth’s is history and Sears is going that way.

    It is almost a rule that the more a company depends on lower skilled workers the closer it is to ruin.

    Take a lot around you and look into the past and you can see that as the lower skilled employees increased in number the good workers left and the company started going bad.

    This trend is slowed because of the low cost of Chinese goods and the monopoly that Walmart and others have but they too will soon go away once union rules and minimum wage laws take effect.

      tom swift in reply to jakee308. | August 10, 2014 at 4:26 am

      Woolworth’s is history and Sears is going that way.

      Nobody can reasonably expect even sound and successful companies to survive in perpetuity. Corporations, like people, age and die. Exactly why they do is an interesting study and can get complicated; but eventual failure does not imply that there was ever anything wrong with the business model.

      the more a company depends on lower skilled workers the closer it is to ruin.

      In my experience in industry, I’ve seen nothing wrong with low-skilled workers per se. They have their place, and it’s an important one. The economic death-knell comes when they stay low-skilled but become, for whatever reason, expensive.

      I designed automatic machinery of the excruciatingly high-tech variety for decades. It was easy to get carried away with the thought of what we could mechanize with a breakthrough invention, some solid engineering, and the time and money needed for both. But we always had to remember that for what we proposed spending on the project a client could hire an awful lot of chatty & cheerful women to sit at benches, soldering and bolting things together.

      But when the women become much more expensive, that equation changes.

      Chinese goods and the monopoly that Walmart and others have but they too will soon go away once union rules and minimum wage laws take effect.

      China and Walmart are ruled by the same economic principles as everyone else. Unions and government economic policies are both attempts to circumvent the basic principle of supply and demand. These attempts invariably cause more-or-less severe market distortions and unintended consequences almost beyond belief. Despite this, unions keep at it because that’s where the money is. The excuse for governments to keep battering all our heads against the same wall are not so clear.

        Ragspierre in reply to tom swift. | August 10, 2014 at 9:04 am

        For years…decades…A&P was the King Cat Daddy of grocery stores. Has anyone seen one lately?

        Business models come and go, and many that fail to adapt to changing markets simply go the way of the dinosaurs.

        I suspect that Sears is less challenged by WalMart in most markets than it is by Amazon.

        All this is a great testament to the verity that MARKETS INNOVATE, and raise the standard of living for everyone. BIG GOVERNMENT ruins.

For what it’s worth, Jack-in-the-Box has had these self-serve ordering kiosks in SoCal for some time now. Not in every restaurant, but in plenty. They’re pretty slick – you can make special orders (hold the mustard, add grilled onions, or whatever) and not worry that the cashier will mess it up (because they usually often do). I use them when it’s busy, or when I don’t see anyone at the counter.

Automated fast-food and coffee shops are inevitable given the many problematic issues with hiring and dealing with low-end, unmotivated and uneducated workers, including unfounded worker lawsuits, obamacare, unemployment and workers comp insurance abuse and fraud, ridiculous minimum wage mandates, fascist National Labor Relations Board, obamacare, OSHA meddling and much, much more.

It’s not that difficult to fully automate most fast food operations. The only real issue is at what point it is less expensive to install fully automated mini-food factories in these restaurants than continue production with hand labor.

I suspect in 10 yrs the typical fast food place will have 2 employees per shift, basically to do logistics and sanitation. Each wage increase, additional government regulation of employees, obamacare, sabotage, wildcat strike, “civil disobedience” lawsuit, etc. provides yet another incentive for automation. Pretty soon fast food joints won’t be much more than fully automated self-serve kiosks. There will be a need for an actual employee to load the raw ingredients into the input hoppers from the delivery trucks and someone to haul out the trash and swab the floors at the end of the day.

Coffee shops will probably be the first to go that route. 99.9% of coffee shops already have 100% automated espresso makers that require no more than punching in the number of shots and pushing the “START” button, not too much more difficult to operate than the self-serve soda-pop machines all fast food outfits already have.

My prediction is that in short order the espresso makers will be moved from behind the counter to the FRONT of the counter where customers make their own espresso drinks, completely eliminating the need for a “barista” to push the “START” button for you.

It’s only one more step for the espresso machine makers to add a credit-card swipe unit that auto-charges you for the espresso you make based on the number of shots you dial in.

At that point, the only need for an employee is to load the beans in the hoppers. Big enough hoppers, and that need be done only once a day. At that point, many of these shops can then just be converted into totally self-serve kiosks.

Once this equipment gets built, installed and self-serve shown to be successful, the rest of the country will quickly move in that same direction.

    tom swift in reply to AsokAsus. | August 10, 2014 at 6:04 am

    Sounds cool.

    But it’s actually curious that McDonald’s hasn’t already gone that route.

    What McDonalds did to restaurant food is the same as what, say, Henry Ford did to manufacture of horseless carriages; they changed what had been a craft into manufacturing. (I’m not saying that either was the first to do so, they’re just obvious exemplars.) A complicated process was systematically broken down into very well-defined, tightly controlled, and relatively simple and repetitive tasks. Nobody goes to a particular McDonald’s because the guy doing the cheeseburgers there has a reputation as a culinary genius. They go to any McDonald’s and have faith that, regardless of personnel, the product will be very predictable. Everything is controlled; the size of the beef patties, the temperature at which they’re stored, the temperature at which they’re cooked, cleaning procedures for the equipment, all has been determined beforehand. Nothing depends on the skill, experience, or artistry of the workers.

    So the entire job is already almost completed; automating the ordering, cooking, and delivery processes would be relatively straightforward. Not necessarily cheap or simple to develop, but no conceptual breakthroughs would be needed. The only difficulty would be if customers didn’t care for it, but there seems to be no reason to suspect that would be the case.

I would welcome the opportunity to walk up to a screen and select my order and not have to try and understand what they’re trying to say.

I know it’s simple right? “May I take your order” but then they start asking questions because they weren’t listening.

“Big Mac and large Fries” I say and they’ll ask “Large fries” and I say “yes” then they’ll say “Anything to drink with that” and I’ll say “no”.

What I want to do is reach across the counter and grab them by the lapels and ask them “do you speak english? Did you listen to what I ordered and what I didn’t order”?

but no I politely repeat everything I originally said and then wait for the light to go off in their dim little mind that they can now ask for the money. Which I then can’t understand and have to ask them to repeat.

(why can’t a total display be facing me when I order like at a grocery store?)

Then I have to wait while they fumble around with ten other orders hoping that mine will get to me before it gets cold.

Bring on the robots Ronald.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to jakee308. | August 10, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    At least at the McDonald’s here, they don’t speak English, or at least not very well. The cashiers are predominantly Asian (I think Chinese), and a lot of the managers are Hispanic.

    Still, they try. Which is good. In other locations, where the staff are supposedly native English speakers, it is more either a work ethic or IQ issue. Long term low level fast food workers are there for a reason, and that typically involves either an IQ, and education, or a substance abuse problem. At least the non-English speaking staff at my local McDonald’s work hard and try, even though the language barrier does make it harder than it should to order.

    Don’t blame them for asking you to repeat your order.

    A) they are ordered to do that, and lose their jobs if they don’t.

    B) It actually a good error-trapping tactic.

    C) It’s a standard sales method to increase sales. Even if you order purely computer based, online pizza, etc, you have to punch through three screens of ads (or ‘adds’, both) for ‘would you like to try our new ….?’.

Henry Hawkins | August 10, 2014 at 10:26 am

Who ever said that minimum wage ought to provide a complete, above-povery level income? Those jobs are to augment a living income, not provide it itself.

Jack up the minimum wage and all hourly wages will creep north accordingly, companies will have to raise prices/rates to cover, and the precipitating minimum wage hike is inevitably negated, requiring….. another hike in the minimum wage.

Hiking minimum wage = Inducing inflation

Elected officials buy votes with promises of a minimum wage hike knowing that companies will raise prices/rates to cover the added expense. The magic of this is that it is the politicians who get the glory while it is the businesses forced to raise prices/rates who get the hate from consumers. This is gold to politicians.

    Ragspierre in reply to Henry Hawkins. | August 10, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Plus, when you induce inflation this way, you ALSO condemn people to greater threat of poverty who are living on fixed incomes that cannot accommodate the changes.

    You also dilute the value of the money saved by provident people for emergency and retirement.

    One OTHER lowdown dirty effect CAN be that you boost people into higher tax brackets. This is AMPLIFIED by the stupid design of ObamaDoggle.

    “Who ever said that minimum wage ought to provide a complete, above-poverty level income?”

    Lots of people.

I am looking forward to this. The local McDonalds has Spanish speaking managers and Asian (I think Chinese) cashiers. And, a lot of Spanish speaking clientèle. It is quite humorous some times watching native Spanish speakers trying to order with native Chinese (I think) speaking cashiers, in some sort of broken English. Always wondered how many people they would pick up there, both staff and customers, in an immigration raid, if they still did them.

I would definitely use one of those kiosks, if offered the chance. In my view, and esp. at McDonalds, there are too many people working as cashiers in fast food restaurants for whom English is not their first language. The transactions would go much more smoothly, if you aren’t, at times, reduced to gestures, when ordering.

This isn’t about a “living wage” and it never was. It’s about the leftist hatred of anything corporate, coupled with the nanny tendency to stop people from what they deem to be bad for people.
Punish the evil corporation by making it impossible to continue in business.
I hate leftists.

ufo destroyers | August 11, 2014 at 2:44 pm

This is up and running at Disney World in the Beast’s Castle restaurant. You queue up, wait for one of the kiosks to get free and be directed by one employee to it, scan your magic band or cc, touch the screen when you see what you want, and complete the transaction. The food is then brought to your table on a cart without you having a pager or number on a stick (don’t ask me how they know where you sit–I don’t know).

Also visited a Red Robin a while back and my hamburger was way undercooked, so I wanted to send it back. The waiter said that was the way it came off the conveyor belt through the oven. Said a cook did not make it on a grill. Needless to say I haven’t been back since.

Since this is a law blog, I’d like to point out automation also making inroads in the legal profession.

BONUS: Robot cash registers don’t steal from their employers.

Another portion of the math that gets left out is: what about the high performers?

Bob has been slouching at McD’s for 6 years, just doing enough to not get fired. He makes $10 an hour.

OTOH, Betty has been a stellar employee for 6 years and as such has been given raises bringing her to $15 an hour.

How can any manager explain to Betty that Bob is going to be lifted to her pay scale while she gets nothing? Obviously, if a company wants to reward its best employees, it has to bump up their pay in comparison.

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