Tuesday, February 28, 2017


You don't need a cashier to know which way the wind blows:
Fast food giant Wendy’s plans to install self-ordering kiosks in about one out of six of the burger chain’s franchises nationwide by the end of this year.

A typical location would get three kiosks for about $15,000, The Columbus Dispatch reported. David Trimm, Wendy’s chief information officer, estimates that payback on those machines would come in less than two years thanks to labor savings and increased sales.

The kiosks have two purposes according to Trimm: appeasing younger customers by given them an ordering experience they prefer and reducing labor costs.
I don't know whether younger customers need appeasement, but I do know reducing labor costs is always a popular idea for businesses.

Automation in food service is not a new thing. I never ate at one, but the Horn and Hardart Automat was once a fixture of urban dining on the East Coast:

Help you at the Automat

Essentially, the Automat turned a commissary-type kitchen into a giant vending machine. Fast fooders like Wendy's actually killed the Automat concept, so we're coming full circle. Just as H&H needed workers to prepare the food, a Wendy's with a kiosk will still have plenty of people in the back of the house, at least initially, but increasingly machines will be automating that part as well.

The larger problem -- if you are a young person looking for an entry-level job, automation is limiting your options. In a world of kiosks and automatic burger making machines, a skill set to have will be troubleshooting equipment malfunctions. I don't know too many teenagers who can swing that one. We all dine with Joseph Schumpeter eventually.


R.A. Crankbait said...

The younger folks might like it - if they have a credit card to swipe or chip to get their order (I'm sure there will be a cash option, but it won't be preferred). Of course, to have your own credit card you need a job, or to be a state government.

Wages or no, automation is inevitable. The movie, "Hidden Figures" is instructive, however. When it became obvious that human computers were going to become obsolete, the supervisor started studying Fortran and teaching the staff so they could become programmers when their jobs were replaced. (Seems odd to think "computers" were once human. Now, with Alexa, I suppose that, too, is coming full circle.)

Bike Bubba said...

I remember a nice Smithsonian article about the Automat--and it strikes me that personal contact and the perception of freshness are going to work against a new Automat. Plus, if you want anything nicer than a McDonald's or Wendy's burger, you're going to have a tough time getting it at the Automat. There is a je ne sais quoi in the culinary arts that's tough to replicate with a machine.

But then again, if the question is hamburgers costing in $15/hour labor versus not, sorry, folks, it's back to the Automat. (as Julia Child spins in her grave)

R.A. Crankbait said...

I saw a video last year of a kiosk that not only took your order but prepared it as well, with custom toppings and meat done-ness. Just because it CAN be done doesn't mean it will be - that machine wouldn't be good in a high-volume venue, and would cost considerably more than an order kiosk - but the capability is there, awaiting circumstances to justify it. I think I speculated in the comments section of the video that there would still be a need for a human to stock the machine with meat, buns, veggies, etc. - and that this person's title would be "Manager."

Gino said...

I work with automated equipment. It has replaced half the workforce. It's also unreliable. Things break or malfunction. Can't have this when the prefer turnaround is five minutes as opposed to days weeks and months of factory work.