Fast Food Chains Turning to Automation to Fight $15 Minimum Wage
It was only a matter of time. There's been a lot of rumbling over the last couple of years, especially since a number of labor unions, and other groups, have been pushing for a $15 minimum wage. A number of cities, including San Francisco and Seattle as well as others, have adopted it. Some cities are phasing it in gradually, others faster. The state of Oregon has implemented a STATE-WIDE such wage which will start it's 'ladder' this summer. So how are retailers and businesses responding?
According to a number of business publications, as well as the cutting-edge political group ShiftWA, both Hardee's and Carl's Jr plan to study closely the idea of installing automated systems in their restaurants that would eliminate a number of the jobs in the fast-food production and sale process.
According to BusinessInsider.com, CEO Andy Puzder says "I want to try it" when referring to automated restaurants. The driving force behind this movement, which is also being explored at Applebees and other national chains, is the rising cost of labor, specifically, the $15 minimum wage.
Puzder is an outspoken critic of such a high wage, saying what good does it do if "Sally makes $3 more an hour, if Suzy has no job?"
He and other business experts point out it's a simple evolution. As costs rise, in this case labor, business will always look for ways to cut costs, or else they won't be able to stay in business. He says millennials are used to technology, they're comfortable with it, and says in some Carl's Jr. stores they've already installed ordering kiosks, where consumers tap on screens to order their entire meal.
Puzder says they've had hundreds of examples where customers used the ordering kiosk, even when there was a counter person ready to 'ring them up'. The person just stood there, doing nothing, while consumers utilized the technology.
He says that's the problem with Presidential candidates like Sanders and Clinton, who want to raise the minimum wage nationally. He insinuates, 'go ahead and do it', but be prepared for the technological backlash where automation replaces the cashier, the cook who fries or broils the burgers and food.
Puzder says some nuances like actually preparing the burger or food once it's been cooked still do better with humans running the show, but a number of tech companies already have machinery available that will cover the ENTIRE fast-food process. From ordering, paying and receiving your food, machines are now capable of cooking, preparing, and bagging your order.
The restaurant chain Eatsa has been the inspiration for many of these companies, and Eatsa officials say their automated systems deliver their food, with a 'human' minimum wage price equivalent of somebody making about $6.95 and hour. While some human work is required, the majority of the restaurant is automated, and consumers do not have any human interaction.
Actually the idea of fully automated food vending is not new. Older folks might remember the chains of Automat locations, who dispensed coin-operated fresh-food vending facilities. Opened in 1902, the last Automat location in the U.S. closed in 1991.