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McDonald’s Inevitable Automation
It seems to me that the Ricochet community could use some good news right now. So here it is:
The left tried to unionize McDonald’s and force a higher minimum wage; McDonald’s responded by minimizing the need for wages. I suspect fast food chains were headed in this direction anyway. If so, this was the extra incentive they needed to dive in. Thanks, unions!
Of course, the picture’s not entirely rosy. As someone pointed out on Facebook earlier, this could eliminate many thousands of entry-level jobs. Those jobs help teenagers begin a work history and help adults re-enter the work force, as well as provide assurance of job opportunities in economically depressed areas.
But I have faith that when one economic door closes another opens. The opportunities aren’t always available nearby. They aren’t always well-paying or fulfilling jobs. But — provided the nanny state will get the heck out of the way! — there are always new jobs being created.Published in Economics
I’d love to see this kind of thing in every restaurant, everywhere. Looking at a menu, telling someone else what I want, and then letting them enter my order into the computer system is inefficient and error-prone. If I enter my own order directly into the system, I can at least be sure that the order is correct. (And if it’s not, I have only myself to blame.)
I haven’t eaten in a Mc since 1964. So what they do is fine by me.
…and that ladies and gentlemen concludes our lesson on basic economics.
Wawa is a convenience store in the southeast Pennsylvania area. They pop up not far from two roads I travel frequently (Route One and I-95). They have been using touchscreens for a couple years now, and I must say I prefer it. The saving grace of ordering by touchscreen is that if there is an error, it’s your own damned fault.
From my limited knowledge, no one is merely a cashier at McDonald’s people do double/triple duty making fries/burgers and taking drive through orders, and just keeping the place clean.
Maybe this will make way for fewer, higher paid employees?
Without digging too deeply, I wonder how close this is to be rolled out nationwide.
Unless McDonald’s corporate office is offering to reimburse franchisees for the expense of these new machines, they will not be installed uniformly or overnight.
For example, I’ve seen these coke machines at my local movie theater and some fast food places, but they are not everywhere.
And those are much less risky than an order taking system.
Those multi-soda dispensers are all over my area north of Houston. I suspect they are common around many major cities by now.
There might be a need to introduce clerk-less ordering at fast food restaurants gradually. Customers will need time to adapt.
And notice that automated checkout stations are more common in supermarkets, yet even years after the innovation was introduced many (most?) customers continue to prefer manual checkout. There are some different factors involve with groceries, such as the frequency of bulk orders. But I think anyone who has helped an elder with email or computer challenges realizes that some people simply aren’t tech-oriented.
This picture amuses me. In my area (Denver), the local franchiser for Jack in the Box had installed one of these kiosks in each store opened since Jack in the Box came back to Denver in 2008. Since the beginning of the year, those kiosks have sat largely turned off, or at best utilized to help the order taker at lunch rush. I’d be curious to see when McDonalds ends up having to roll back plans to deploy these.
Then again, McDonalds is an organization that is just now rolling out Sirloin Burgers. Something Jack in the Box came out with in late 2005 (and just got rid of them in the last few weeks).
You think they’ll bring back Chicken Selects? Those were the only thing I could eat at McDonalds. It’s a real pain when the kids want Happy Meals because I have to make two stops
They should bring back Happy Meals. Recently, my niece has been playing with all of our old toys. Do y’all remember McDonald’s transformers?
I had a couple of those.
Great, now my mom can call me from McDonald’s to ask, “I just want a coffee, which button should I press?”
Ironically, I was just reading Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics last night, specifically the part about efficiency, labor vs. capital, and the minimum wage. Hate to use the expression, but this story seems to be… well… textbook illustration of his book.
Applebees is doing the same thing by providing pads at the table. They still have waitresses for now…but I imagine that will change.
Not that I ever eat there, of course.
Our local McDs has outsource the taking drive through orders to call centers located else where. So those positions are not local anymore to either the store or the area.
Seen the same thing at Chili’s.
Mine just pre-record a female pitching the latest new burger flavor, then when the recording stops I get surprised with a deep male voice gruffly asking me for my order.
We must have different minimum wages.
Any restaurant that has table service will still need wait staff to bring the food, refill drinks, and otherwise check to make sure everything’s OK. I don’t really see a down side here: the tablets on the tables make it easier to order things, and they even let you signal the waitress that you need something (it’s way better than waving your arms).
They also will let you play games for an additional fee.
I don’t eat there often, but when I do, I expect NOT to have people playing loud video games or blasting spongebob squarepants cartoons (this happened at IHOP) right next to me.
I expect inevitably that when I ask my neighbor for the common decency to keep the sound down, I will be asked to leave since I am disturbing other customers. I may just be paranoid.
They could cap the sound or mute the things, I suppose. If there’s not a setting or app to lock customers out of that yet, they could easily develop one.
But I’d almost be willing to chip in an extra buck just to hear Excitebike again.
Planet Money did a good story on this exact thing a couple of weeks ago.
I’ve worked with a number of industrial touch screens. The things are often poorly calibrated, and the surface of your finger isn’t as accurate as a mouse. Oh, and because we assume everybody’s illiterate there are only pictures where there ought to be [words]. Myself, I’d prefer to interface with a keyboard, because then you can actually control what you’re telling it. Not that there are enough of me to make a difference in the market.
A weekend doesn’t go by that doesn’t find our family eating at the Wawa, what with soccer games, concerts, birthday parties. Self-ordering is incredibly efficient. Most of the time your hoagie is waiting for you by the time you’re done paying for it. And we never find errors considering the huge number of topping combinations. You can even choose between “Mayo”, “A Little Mayo”, and “A Lot of Mayo”!
It’s likely you don’t have little ones. Happy Meals are still with us to this day.
Skylanders Trap Team is the current toy, I believe.
Self-ordering was introduced decades ago by the railroads. In the dining cars, the passengers wrote out their orders and handed them over to staff to be filled. The next advancement came from the hotel industry with the introduction of the hang-on-door room service breakfast ordering card. This technological trend led eventually to the invention of the touch screen.
Not so fast there. Maybe it will work out that way, or maybe humans need not apply for many jobs in the future. In that case, there will be lots of folks hanging around with nothing to do, “…unemployable through no fault of their own.” A substantial fraction of jobs humans do now will be filled by robots soon.
As the video notes, “…if you still think new jobs will save us: here is one final point to consider. The US census in 1776 tracked only a few kinds of jobs. Now there are hundreds of kinds of jobs, but the new ones are not a significant part of the labor force.” Many in this list are potential robot jobs:
As a final caution,”… perhaps you’re still not worried because you’re a special creative snowflakes. Well guess what? You’re not that special.”
The video doesn’t need to be exactly true in all respects to be worrisome. The assumption that new jobs will be there to replace the old may be presumptive.
One local grocery chain here in Milwaukee just finished removing the self-checkout lanes from their stores (at least the ones near my house). Personally, I wish they’d have left at least one.
I don’t know about your area, but I don’t see a lot of teenagers working at McDonalds anymore. It looks like mostly adults and retirees. When I worked at McD’s in 1978 it was ALL high school kids, with the exception of the managers and a few others.
Efficiency is not the highest good.
For efficiency we are sacrificing a huge source of entry level jobs which teach every new generation how to interact with the public, how to show up on time, how to earn a living, the value of money, the value of hard work, and more. I am glad I grew up in a time when I could perform unskilled labor for a pittance.
We also sacrifice interacting with humans. The human-human interaction taking place at McDonald’s or IHOP is small but the sum total of all those small interactions has a huge affect in a country of 350million people. Anybody who agrees that the thesis of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart is true and bad should not be celebrating a robotized unskilled workforce. If you think Fishtown is bad now, but wait until they are all unemployed.