Last year, tens of thousands of fast-food workers rallied across 100 U.S. cities in support of a decent living wage. Workers demanded at least $15 an hour, in contrast to the hourly wage of $8.75 millions make at restaurants like McDonald’s.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 16- to 19-year-olds made up 17 percent of food preparation and serving workers, down from almost a quarter in 2000, as older, underemployed workers took those jobs.
For those without college degrees, in some areas of the country these low paying jobs are all that’s available in an economy that has never really emerged from the recession, where it’s not just harder to get a job, it’s harder to get a good job.
A study released last year by UC Berkeley Labor Center and University of Illinois found that 52% of families of fast food workers receive assistance from a public program such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
This taxpayer funded assistance amounts to corporate welfare.
But as more and more fast-food and mid-price restaurants embrace robotic automation, low paid workers struggling against fast-food behemoths like McDonald’s for a higher wage will simply become replaced and irrelevant.
The Next Generation of Fast-Food
Meet Momentum Machines, a San Francisco-based robotics company that has unveiled a burger robot capable of making 360 “customized” gourmet burgers per hour without the aid of a human.
* Our alpha machine frees up all of the hamburger line cooks in a restaurant. It does everything employees can do except better:
* It slices toppings like tomatoes and pickles immediately before it places the slice onto your burger, giving you the freshest burger possible.
* Our next revision will offer custom meat grinds for every single customer.
* Want a patty with 1/3 pork and 2/3 bison ground to order? No problem.
* Also, our next revision will use gourmet cooking techniques never before used in a fast food restaurant, giving the patty the perfect char but keeping in all the juices.
* It’s more consistent, more sanitary, and can produce ~360 hamburgers per hour.
* The labor savings allow a restaurant to spend approximately twice as much on high quality ingredients and the gourmet cooking techniques make the ingredients taste that much better.
Alex Vardakostas, Momentum’s founder and president, provides more details to Eater:
“The machine takes unprepared inputs (including whole tomatoes, onions, pickles, uncooked patties, untoasted buns, etc.) and then, as each order comes in, the device prepares the ingredients (slices tomatoes, char-broils patties, etc.) and assembles the entire burger.
“Customization occurs through a simple user interface, allowing the button-pusher to opt out of certain ingredients and add extras of stuff they like. When it’s done doing the assembling, it even puts the burger into a bag, if that’s what your company needs it to do.”
“The machine is already capable of handling different sizes of buns, tomatoes, et cetera”explained Vardakostas when asked about the limitations of his machine.
“It’s also really customizable in that the restaurant owner can tell us the proportion sizes desired of each ingredient and we can very easily modify the machine to suit their demand”
Tablets To Replace Wait Staff
Applebee’s and other mid-price restaurants may soon be phasing out wait staff in favor of tablets. Applebee’s announced plans to install a tablet at every table in its 1,860 restaurants across the United States.
Instead of ordering from a waiter, customers will be able to use the devices to order food, pay the bill, and play video games.
Initially, Applebee’s and other mid-price restaurants may not change their staffing levels dramatically, but they’ll gradually phase out their wait staffs down to a few “table runners”per shift who will also bus tables.
Jamba Juice Turns to Machines
Last year, the JambaGo self-serve machine made the vast majority of Jamba’s employees obsolete.
Bloomberg notes Jamba Juice makes money by selling the prepackaged, pre-blended smoothie ingredients to JambaGo vendors, like a soda maker selling syrup to the owner of a soda fountain.
“The advantages: Jamba doesn’t need to build a store and the labor costs are much lower compared with hiring staff to concoct made-to-order drinks.”
The company will soon have installed more than 1,800 machines compared to about 850 Jamba Juice Stores.
Clearly, the impact these Burger Robots would have on eliminating low paying jobs at fast-food restaurants like Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s would be devastating.
McDonald’s alone employs nearly two million people serving around 68 million customers daily in 119 countries.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, about 4.1 million U.S. workers were employed in food preparation and serving which includes fast-food.
To illustrate just how apocalyptic the effect would be on the low paying, unqualified workforce, in 2011, McDonald’s received a million applications for approximately 62,000 new positions.
Now imagine the ramifications on employment if Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, Taco Bell, and more all go robotic. For over a decade, the Japanese have created a legion of robots specifically designed to serve and cook food in what they perceive as an automated future.
But the elimination of jobs isn’t confined to the fast-food industry. A new study released by Oxford scientists concludes nearly 50% of all jobs are “at risk”of being replaced by automation systems and robots in just one generation.
The fact is, human labor is becoming obsolete as robots analyze documents, fill prescriptions, and complete other tasks that were once exclusively done by humans.
No matter how many protests fast-food workers participate in, workers won’t be receiving wage increases anytime soon, and will ultimately find themselves replaced by robots.