Can A Robot McDonald's In Phoenix Handle A $15.00 Minimum Wage?

Hamburgers, Will Robinson, Hamburgers!

 Wally Cox as a guest star from the television program "Lost in Space" on September 16, 1966.
Wally Cox as a guest star from the television program "Lost in Space" on September 16, 1966. | Source

Could It Happen? - Possibly.

A parody news site launched a story about McRobots at McDonald's in 2015. Yahoo News picked up the story - and then swiftly dropped it. While not true, the story has some basis in fact and this Hub looks at the possibilities.

McDonald's Reduces Staff to a Skeleton Crew

I remember when a housemate of mine badgered the company that owned our rented house for so many expensive improvements that the company leveled the house and made the property into a parking lot.

Her move required a semi-truck, another U-Haul truck, a small trailer, and two SUVs.

Today, McDonald's has found that many of the tactics that helped them absorb the last Federal Minimum Wage Increase are not working today to satisfy the growing demand for a $15.00 minimum wage. In that light, the company allegedly plans to eliminate part of its human crew members. Those few remaining will be more in the nature of robotics technicians.

Ask and ye shall receive - but not always what you want.

The McDonald's model reduced dining variety at first, then increased variety at a high cost. Now, reductions are occurring.
The McDonald's model reduced dining variety at first, then increased variety at a high cost. Now, reductions are occurring. | Source

McDonald’s works more like a giant vending machine. You wait in line until you get to the machine interface, you put in your order and your money, and the food comes out the slot. This works for McDonald’s because they have narrowed customer expectations to match a factory-like service. -- [Reference: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davegray/6463738177/ on December 5, 2011]

— David Gray on Flickr

Fast Food Worker of the Future?

Source

25,000 McRobot Stores Possible?

Reports are that if the first robot McDonald's works out well, then the company will build or convert 25,000 more restaurants to robot crews. This causes thousands of people to lose work altogether. They will decline in income from $15.00 per hour minimum wage to no wages at all. The cost of the robots is high, but would be capitalized. Special new bank loans for robot workers might by in development.

Faster, Cheaper, More Accurate, and Less Customer Interaction

Years ago, I asked a store owner that had just installed computerized cash registers in his McDonald's restaurant how many transactions each station could handle per minute or hour. He could not tell me. Where is an efficiency expert when you need one?

McRobots (real name) have allegedly proven in tests that they are "50% faster" than human crew people, follow instructions, clean up thoroughly, and avoid arguments with customers. They also cannot be tricked into giving too much change after payment.

McRobots Hit Phoenix!

A marker7th St & McDowell Rd Phoenix AZ -
North 7th Street & East McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ 85006, USA
[get directions]

The McDonald's at 545 E. McDowell in Phoenix has an attractive Facebook page with news and fantastic cartoons, and not a single sign of a robot yet. Look for the cartoon of a smiling scorpion sharing MsDonald's fries with a happy rattlesnake. Reference: https://www.facebook.com/pages/McDonalds-at-545-E-Mcdowell/105988832775653

The Electric Grandmother Is In Here

McDonald's Phoenix Competition

The first McRobots may be welcomes or they may drive some people away, Persons afraid of answering machines in the past may be leery of trying to order and receive food via robot these days. I believe that franchise owners would like the robot experience to be similar to that of the happy kids who grow up with the Robot Grandmother of Twilight Zone fame and the book I Sing the Body Electric.

Take a look at the map above and see the competition. If Phoenix downtown workers, residents, and visitors do not like the robots initially, they may take advantage of human interaction at the competition surrounding the Golden Arches at 7th and McDowell. They can choose from a Sonic Drive-In, Whataburger, Starbucks, and even a Safeway grocery store that probably has - or may institute - sandwiches and a cafe. A Taco bell sits just a couple of blocks west of the robot restaurant and businesses containing cafeterias lie to the east.

If the McRobots can be developed quickly and prove as fast and accurate in everyday transactions as they are in scientists' minds and computer simulations, then the consumer public may accept them and McDonald's business revenues could see a comeback.

I thought YOU got his drink! - No I thought YOU did!

Source

Restaurant service by the Tin Woodsman --

How satisfied would you be with food service from a robot?

  • Wonderfully well satisfied!
  • It would be OK, but some mistakes would happen.
  • No way! (Tell me why in Comments, below).
See results without voting

Will Robots Succeed With Hamburgers and Fries?

Can robots handle the work in a McDonald's restaurant? I estimate that they can handle it better today than a quarter of a century ago when the cooking was much more labor intensive. Today, the kitchen area or Back Line is simplified, with food cooked ahead of time and held in warming drawers.

In my day as a McDonald's manager, all the food was cooked fresh to order with a little extra for rush times; but in Ray Kroc's first kitchens, even the sauces and shakes were all hand made. The potatoes were cut by hand. Crew people did a lot of work for minimum wage in the 1950s and 1960s.

Robots can be programmed to include the floor plan of all areas of the restaurant unit and how to use all the equipment, products, cash registers, etc. Then the human tenders need to stay out of their way and watch for glitches.

Robots are being used in some cleaning processes by janitorial services, especially in the hospital environment. This came about as a result of the NASA Spinoffs development form aerospace investigations.

Horror With Fries?

Robots could become, perhaps, TOO real looking.
Robots could become, perhaps, TOO real looking. | Source

Alternative Cost Savers

Cafeteria Lines with Culture

A money saving alternative worked well in Meridian, Mississippi for many years, until the franchise owners retired. They developed a counter with a cafeteria trail railing. Customers grabbed a tray, walking either right or left into one of two lines, and pulled their food items out of the warming bins as if they were in a cafeteria.

The Drive-Thru setup was the same as before, but fewer crew members were needed for serving and cashiering, so the extra savings was given in pay raises and used for maintaining a swimming pool out front, complete with a life guard. The dining area was home to several showcases of McDonald's memorabilia and museum-quality art pieces, so visitors enjoyed eating at this unit.

Drive-Thru Only

Other franchise owners developed Drive-Thur only stores, especially near major interstate highways. They were open 24/7/365 and proved most successful. Always busy, they facilitated streamlining. They also reduced their menu offerings to eliminated the most complex and costly items, which also increased savings.

Minor Self Service

Self-service drink stations have reduced costs for McDonald's in many locations, but not enough to absorb a minimum wage of $15.00.

Since the announcement of "Robot Stores", the price of a share of McDonald's stock seems to be rising slightly. Watching that stock will be interesting in the near future.

Are fast food restaurants becoming passe or will they recover?

© 2015 Patty Inglish

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Comments 19 comments

drbj profile image

drbj 13 months ago from south Florida

Your hub, Patty, reminds me of the self-service stations one local supermarket has set up for customers. Most of the customers wait in long lines where there are human cashiers rather than take advantage of the self-service counters where screw-ups seem to be a constant occurrence.


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 13 months ago from Northern California, USA

I'm still pondering whether or not I would enjoy the McRobot restaurant. But, I can say that I would love to visit a restaurant with a robot server just to have the experience of being served by what I feel is the fast approaching way of doing business. When it comes to saving money, I believe business owners will opt for the robot over real people every time.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 13 months ago from North America Author

@drbj - Yes, I've had bad things happen at those self-serve checkouts. At the grocery closest to me, self-serve is the only option after about 8 pm, when they send all the cashiers home. (sigh)

@MarleneB - It would fun to see how robot servers would function! I hope they won't record conversations :)


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 13 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

The YouTube video HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY puts automation into a larger contexts. Few job can't be automated. Computers are grading college essays. Driverless cars are on the highways; that means driverless taxis and delivery vans are feasible. Virtual doctors do better at diagnosing than real doctors. I wonder what the implications of the automation trend are.

In some cases, keeping wages low has delayed mechanization and automation. but wages that don't pay bare living costs aren't sustainable.

Machines producing and delivering goods, providing services, and managing the processes. Jobs available to humans increasingly scarce. I wonder what the implications are.


Dr Billy Kidd profile image

Dr Billy Kidd 13 months ago from Sydney, Australia

Robots produce many things already, like welding car parts together or running saw mills. The idea of $15 an hour wage has little to do with fast food joints adopting robots. It's simply the trend for the last 25 years.

For example, doctors and shrinks like me used to dictate our notes on patients. Stenographers would do the write up. Then the computer hit the ground and people like me found they could do their notes themselves. And today, there's a computer in most every room in a modern clinic. The PC, in other words, took the job away from the stenographer and the file clerk.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 13 months ago from North America Author

@B. Leekley - Thanks for your comments. I don't know about trusting virtual doctors yet- maybe over Skype with visuals is fine; in New Jerseys in the 1990s, computers diagnosed patients in one hospital and misdiagnosed patients increased a lot, but that was 20 years ago.

I heard about driverless trucks hauling payloads. Not sure that is a good idea or not, especially for hazardous items.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 13 months ago from Home Sweet Home

If robots takeover humans, there will be jobless people increasing in numbers. What about old folks who dont understand english?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 13 months ago from North America Author

@peachpurple -

Those are two problems that are sure to emerge and increase in high numbers. Even in the 1960s, older folks had trouble reading the menu board that had many fewer items that it does today. Then they were afraid to use the Drive-Thru and who could blame them when so many mistakes were made with it?

Just think - move one prep floor station a few inches and robots will crash or come to a standstill.

One thing McDonald's is doing in my city is putting up only a limited menu board, not listing all items, and focusing on pre-arranged combo meals and lower food cost items, and specials for which they receive promotional write-offs. That lowers costs somewhat and makes work easier on employees.

I must say that a pair of brothers owns five McDonald's in town and they are always changing things to reduce costs and speed service. The employees are happy and very friendly to customers.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 13 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

This is scary stuff. Not that eating at McRobots has not been scary for a long time. Tellers have had competition from ATM's for a number of years now.

Perhaps someday McRobots wills serve McEaters at an all automon fast food place.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 13 months ago from North America Author

@mckbirdbks - Wow! Now the last scenario is right out of Twilight Zone playbook or I, Robot. I think robots are still too expensive, even with capitalized expense, though. Fun to think about, except of humans become extinct.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 13 months ago from The Caribbean

First I've heard of a McRobot. My concern is for the workers who will be unemployed; or will they be trained to do robot repair? I wonder will customers especially kids become attached to the robots, and with what results? So many issues here. Thanks for this information.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 13 months ago from North America Author

@MsDora - The st robot in industry I witnessed was in the silent film "Metropolis" and since then, automation has seeped into business and life increasingly.

I don't think the robots that would appear in fast food places would sound like Robin Williams and Galletea in "Bicentennial Man" or Data in "Star Trek:TNG", so there would be little for kids to attach themselves - more like a toaster with an electronic voice. Siri and Cortana likely have more personality. But who knows for sure?


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 13 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Patty

First of all it would be great if our minimum wage was that high! Its at $14 (NZ) which is $13.50 US!

Secondly I don't think McDonalds will bother with Robots themselves on the front counter as people in busy malls are just not ready for them, think of how many older generation are afraid to use a computer, now we'd be asking them to talk to one? The grandkids are going to be bitterly disappointed at missing McD's!

Finally they are franchises and all the costs of wages are carried by the franchisee not McD's! Yes they have obligations to the franchisee but meeting the wages bill isn't one of them!

McDonalds may not be the world's biggest resteraunt chain anymore but have you ever come across a franchisee who was struggling? I haven't!

If Burger King was to go that way it might be an improvement though! :)

Lawrence


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 13 months ago from North America Author

Coincidence - Burger King in Central Ohio did struggle after many successful years. Suddenly one night, they all burned down. We have new ones now.

A few franchisers of McD here tell me that they may limit the dining room hours in a cutback for nights; and that they hope the breakfast all day with lower food costs helps them out. One thinks a robot would work on the food assembly line. I've seen computerized French fryers and fish/pie fryers that fill and lower the baskets, cook, lift the baskets, and drain them. That saves a little $$. Robots are expensive.


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 13 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Patty

Can see where you are coming from. Automation in some areas could cut costs but then what do you do with the young kid whose job just disappeared?

That's one area society hasn't dealt with adequatly. Over here places like McD's and Burger King are seen as a good way into the Hospitality trade as they give industry recognised qualifications and the added advantage of future employers knowing you've got experience with it.

One area that Automation is maybe going to change things is in transport! Germany already has 'driverless trucks' on the road delivering goods, what's next? Computers can already fly planes!

Justva few things to ponder.

Lawrence


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 13 months ago from North America Author

@Lawrence -

Youth losing jobs and work experience is indeed a big problem.

We also had such a problem with cuts in youth employment after the Bill Clinton Administration's Congress voted to replace training and job funds by the lesser moneys of the Workforce Investment Act. Beginning in the summer of 2008, over 2,500 kids in my city alone lost that seasonal employment, a larger number in DC lost it, and in NYC - huge numbers of kids lost employment. Automation taking their jobs in the future is another possible blow. The government is encouraging youth to earn short-term tech certificates in high school and vocational schools and accept technician jobs -- At least these jobs pay better than McDonald's at present.

Interesting that German has driverless trucks. USA tried them in the north central states and there were some accidents. USA may not be ready for them.


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 4 months ago from Long Island, NY

This is a good review of the situation. The people who demand a $15 minimum wage are clueless and don’t understand that the only way to earn $15 is to do a job that brings in more that $15 an hour for the company.

Without that ability the future will become more automated, as you had discussed in this article. Companies hire people as an investment. Many people don’t understand that. If the investment does not produce more return than the cost, then the investment (the employee) is eliminated. Simple as that!


The Messenger 3 months ago

I once saw a documentary about robots in Japan and provided a glimpse of the the future robot economy, the possible problems for general employment for HUMANS, and the impact on small business competitiveness. This vision ahead sprouted an inventive idea by the robot makers who suggested a possible new business model. An idea they got from vending machines where people buy stock in them.

Robots would displace workers and upset the market place between traditional business (likely small and medium sized) who don't have robots and large corporations with the money to invest in this technology. The knew paradigm would create a new dichotomy for sure.

One solution in the documentary helped both the traditional business and the displaced workers. Setup a robot co-operative where individuals can purchase a percentage or outright own a robot. The robot(s) would be leased to business to do the tasks employees did. In essence the robot would go to work for the humans and ergo free these humans to peruse other pursuits.

If an equitable and profitable system could be made, this could create a golden age where humans can expand their horizons to be truly creative, to live, and to learn. It could free your mind and more importantly your time.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 months ago from North America Author

@The Messenger - This sounds similar to the projected plans for folks to purchase rides in driverless cars instead of owning cars and driving. Thanks for your interesting ideas and reporting!

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