May 23, 2015

Robots To Replace Fast Food Workers

Could the decrease in McDonald's fast food sales mean that it's the beginning of the end? That is, the end of the convenience of being able to get a drive-through, decaf soya latte  - or a luscious, full-fat 60 cent ice-cream? (between that and a 70 cent postage stamp, it's clear which one I'd rather lick). I know disturbingly, and conspicuously - low-brow, high-bogan, and outer suburban!  

But to me McDonalds represents egalitarianism, and the opportunity to run in off the street, and use their facilities (rare as telephone boxes these days) without "spending a penny" so  to speak. And, you skip being served by snooty, po-faced waiters ...who you know have calculated your BMI and hipster-rating, before you even say flat-white, single origin coffee, 5 sugars, and a locally sourced bocconcini on sourdough panini ...please. Hate that.

News Examiner reports that McDonalds is apparently in the middle of a prolonged domestic turnaround attempt amid fierce restaurant competition. CEO Steve Easterbrook has said McDonald's needs to act boldly to revitalize itself as the outside world has changed more quickly outside of McDonald's than inside the chain.

So after seeing a decline in earnings for the first time in nine years, in an effort to trim their budgets – they’ve decided to cut costs by replacing employees with robots, just as many grocery stores across the world have started doing.

In fact,  News Examiner has announced a new McDonalds location is set to open in Phoenix, Arizona (on July 4). The new location will be run entirely by robots, aside from a small crew of humans (no I'm not making this up), who will be hired to help operate and oversee the robots - to insure all of the robots are working correctly, the food and cleaning supplies remain stocked, along with removing the money collected by the robots. They say it'll be a test run to see if a mostly robot staff will work in other McDonalds restaurants. 

Visitors to the restaurant will see the new robots working in harmony at a speed of 50 times faster than the average human employee, with no chance of error. If the test launch for the store is a success, people can expect to see robots located in every store all over the country and across the globe.

Phoenix resident, 52-year-old Tom Downey, who has been unemployed for the last 3 years, was excited about the opening of a nearby McDonald’s until he heard about the robots.  “Now that they hire only robots, I don’t know what I can even do. I don’t have an education, a car, and now I’m not gonna even be able to get a burger job. Just the thought of having to go to the state unemployment office and stand in line with those scumbags!”

42-year-old Irwin Waddams, an unemployed fast food worker, told reporters he is extremely disappointed by the decision to employ only robots instead of humans. Another disheartened [human] applicant said, "McDonald’s had my resume, I already completed two job interviews there and they said I was scheduled to work once the new store opened ....Then I hear of the robots [doing the job] instead of a regular human."

Who knows when we will see MacRobots in Australia? Perhaps my recent experience, is a sample of things to come ....soon. For it was only a second after entering one eastern suburbs McDonalds, that I was approached by an overconfident, customer services wizard/pimply kid, who ushered me - against my will - over to a "self-order kiosk". I tried to stand my ground. I protested...
Me: "No don't make me do that!"

Pimply kid: "Don't be scared, it's really easy."

Me: "But I like the face-to-face stuff. I WANT to go over to the counter. I'm a people person!"

Pimply kid: "Look it won't take long."

Me: "But I DON'T want to push any more buttons today thankYOU!"

Of course, Pimply Kid wouldn't take no for an answer. And before I knew it I'd ordered - who knows what - via a giant instore iPad. And then I gave it my money!

Meantime, back in Arizona, the store’s new manager, Jay Funkhouser, is said to be over the moon, with the robots, "They get their work done in a fast and orderly manner. And they don’t ask for cigarette breaks.” A spokesman for McDonald’s said that because of the demand for a $15/hr wage, the company has been considering the idea of a restaurant run entirely by robots for years, and believes their “McRobots” are the answer.

The Guardian reports that McDonald’s “dinosaur” culture may be to blame for its declining sales and waning stature. Nell Minow, a co-founder of governance advisory firm GMI Ratings, who has been dubbed the “the queen of good corporate governance”, said McDonald’s should immediately move to shake up its “dinosaur” board. She said the company must also bring the board’s average age “down at least a couple of decades”. Now I don't like the sound of that ....Ageist hussy.

And when will reinvention obsessed, greed is good, corporate CEOs learn that making a "customer" interact with a screen to get service, does not always equal forward thinking and innovation. Yes it's possibly true that half of McDonald's customer base are poised for "The Jetsons" family fast-food experience ....however it's likely the other half still expect what they'd get at"The Waltons". That is, food and service, that's provided via "staff" that are unplugged.

So regarding the overconfident, pimply kids serving us - it's about time they wake-up and smell their coffee - and rethink the assumption that a customer's reluctance to use an iService kiosk, does not instantly mean they're some kind of digitally challenged, iTech refusenik.

Alas .... I’m beginning to have a rethink about re-engaging permanently, with snooty nose cafe waiters, and not minding if they serve me their home-spun lemon curd tart on a manky wooden chopping board. 

Mike Licht


Icecream image via flickr


  1. I refuse to use the self serve check outs at the supermarket, because they're a pain to use. They don't swipe properly, there is no-one to talk to when it all goes wrong. I don't enjoy shopping at the supermarket much, so I'd rather just fill up my shopping basket and have the swift and shift check out person put all through for me. Grab my bags and go. I'm then irritated at what should have amounted to a quick swipe through that's now turned into a fiasco by a seemingly technologically phobic older person that's cracking a sweaty brow and arm pits. Yet I'm nothing of the kind. I'm quite savvy on my own home computer. Love keeping up to date with new windows applications and learning how to use funky add-ons with my Firefox browser. At one stage when I had my own blog I learned a bit html so that I could add gifs, video's and animated stuff. I'm on my computer every day doing all sorts of stuff. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact the self serve check out is in public and I'm aware others are watching me. Maybe not. But I can tell you this. I no longer shop at that particular supermarket so they've lost me as a customer

    1. Yet swiping a bar code over a scanner is a hard thing to do. Yet you handing over the product to a teenager can do the same task.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting about this. If I don't feel like talking to anyone, and only have an armful of things, I don't mind the self serve check-outs ...good when you just want the paper. But then, like most days, you see it as someone else's job. And they're always happy to help. I find having to queue at self service check-outs ridiculous - also, you miss out on doing a quick read through of the trashy mags. And the other day, I bought a magazine for my mum which came with a free pizza tray. Now if I hadn't gone through the checkout and had an actual conversation about the mag to the friendly and helpful woman operating the checkout, I would never have gone home with the best little pizza dish I've ever had ...and free! Love that.