The goal of a corporation is to maximize profits. So, how should a business go about this? The fast food industry has an answer: replace its workers with technology.
Let’s take a look at McDonald’s: the quintessential fast food restaurant. Recently, McDonald’s has been rolling out a concept which it calls the “McDonald’s of the Future.” Sounds interesting, right? The “McDonald’s of the Future” features an upgraded and more “gourmet” menu, a dessert bar, a specialized McCafe counter, interactive children’s video games, and food ordering kiosks. McDonald’s brands this as a shift from “fast-food” to “fast-casual,” but in reality it is a guise that allows them to take advantage of technology and save money by hiring less minimum-wage workers within their restaurants.
Automation due to a new technology in any industry isn’t a new idea, but it has yet to take off in the food service industry. In the 90’s, McDonald’s tried to replace its workers with automated kiosks but the idea failed to take off. Now, however, the technology and political climate (fast food workers fighting for union rights and $15 dollar/hour minimum wage) the idea seems more realistic.
In 2016, people are more accepting of robotic technology being used in everyday society. They’re more comfortable to order, receive, and eat their food, all without talking to people. This is key. The ordering desk is one of the last stands that prevents McDonald’s owners to fully automate their restaurants. Robots can easily replace the preparation and cooking end of the food already – why not automate the ordering and delivery?
With the advent of robots within fast food, the staff in a single fast food restaurant can be greatly reduced. Instead of hiring multiple minimum wage workers to staff and maintain a restaurant, only two or three slightly above minimum wage technicians would need to be hired to ensure that the robots continue to work properly. Robots can take care of food preparation, delivery, restaurant maintenance, and everything in between – all with far less error than humans. Additionally, they will come at a lower cost overtime (it would just be a larger outlay). The downside to this? Unemployment of unskilled workers – but that’s more of a political issue, not a technical one. Additionally, McDonald’s won’t care about the issue: they only cared about their nutritional issues after Super Size Me became a blockbuster hit. Workers aren’t any different.
If this succeeds, which it (at least this initial step) will, then how will it spread to other businesses? Automation is already in place for the manufacturing industry, but it is nearly nonexistent in others like the hospitality or safety industries. Could robots work as a safer and better security guard for sporting arenas? What about a robot giving the same personable touch in the hospitality industry? If robots are to become a part of everyday life, society will need to become more accepting of them. The technology is starting to get here, but the acceptance of technology – whether social or economically – is still to come.