‘Robots’ now taking orders at McDonald’s

‘Robots’ now taking orders at McDonald’s

By Chuck Woodbury
Look what I found in a McDonald’s in central California. It’s an automated cashier – just insert your credit card, punch a few buttons to pick your food and drink and then claim your goods when your number is called.

The machines are not what you would traditionally describe as robots, but they are replacing humans, so when it comes right down to it, that’s what they are.

I am not a regular McDonald’s customer, so perhaps these machines have been around awhile. Please let me know. This particular restaurant had four machines. The place was packed when I stopped by for a burger and shake. Two humans took customer orders at the counter. Other customers used the machines. I didn’t give much thought to the machines at first. Then, talking later to a few Californians, I was told that they were in response to California upping its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The machines, once in place, do not demand a wage and they always show up on time.

Personally, I like the idea of a $15-an-hour wage. It’s good that people can afford a better life than what they could at $9 an hour. But, business being business, it does not surprise me that McDonald’s would embrace these “robots” to keep its costs down, which in this case means employing fewer humans. I expect other fast food places will follow, if they haven’t already.

I wonder how many entry level jobs will now be lost to high school kids and others needing part-time income? I suppose it will soon amount to tens of thousands and many more in the years ahead.

What do you think? Please, no rants.

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32 thoughts on “‘Robots’ now taking orders at McDonald’s

  1. Barb

    Of course there will be people who do not want to work a minimum wage and strive to do better themselves or build some self-respect, when they can lay around all day and still receive a welfare check and food vouchers and EBT cards.

  2. Edward Gonsalves

    Even with the higher wages many places can’t find enough people to work, that’s the main reason why these robots are needed.

    1. John David

      Government screwing with the free market/free enterprise system seldom works out well for the employee. If the wage is not good enough, the employee should remain only long enough to get experience then look for or prepare for a better wage-paying employment.

  3. Tom Gutzke

    I don’t believe every job in America is designed to be a ‘living wage’ position. The many part-time positions at fast food restaurants are meant to teach work ethic, listening to instructions, and doing the best you can. This is what made the work ethic.

    1. Barb

      I totally agree with your comment.

  4. Lynn Vander Horck

    Panera Bread has been using the robot option but many still use the human

  5. Paul Alton

    They are the norm at McDonalds in Canada. I prefer them they are quicker to order and no ESL or deafness issues. The machine accepts tap and pay and reads the code for coupons off the McDonalds smart phone app. Then you can lean back against the padded bolster and watch where your order is in the queue. I definitely prefer them.

  6. TechiePhil

    When we retired Home to the States two years ago after having lived and worked in the U.K.. the self-order kiosks had been in place over there in McDonalds for a couple of years. I suspect the trend may have more to do with the difficulty of finding dependable employees than a rise in the hourly wage.

    They work great in Britain, as most Brits I know would rather interface with a machine than have to speak to a person. 🙂

  7. Ken Bram

    I had a business a few years ago that employed about 45 people of varying abilities – from warehouse workers to a CFO. I questioned him what the ramifications of increasing the salary of those below $15 per hour. He estimated that when adding in all the extras, it would cost me about $250,000 per year. I could not raise my prices. How soon until people would have had to be let go and those that remained, would have had to pick up their work?

  8. Eric Meslin

    This is the way sandwiches have been ordered in Wawa’s for some time now. I can also order a sub on-line from our local supermarket’s deli and have it ready for pickup at any time I specify. Technology works.

    Raising the minimum wage will lead to a rise in pricing or a reduction of other costs to compensate.

    We live in Florida (federal minimum wage), where we had an interesting McDonalds experience this weekend. We’ve been out of town in our RV for 6 months. We stopped for a quick $1 burger and shake at our local store and after ordering were given a large plastic number to set on our table. We waited for 15 minutes for our meal to be delivered to us. All the while we watched several employees wandering around with food and making deliveries. They have either increased employment or negatively impacted kitchen operations. Since it took so long for two basic burgers, I’d guess the latter.

  9. Tom Becher

    Labor costs money, and the worker always forgets that the wages he makes are just part of the cost of doing business. Add on S.S. contributions, insurance (if any) uniforms breaks, meals or discounted meals etc. That robot is bought just once and barring breakdown never needs to be paid again. I remember when type was set by hand. (little pieces of lead )with the letters on them set in trays to form words and sentences. Then came line o type where a man (never a woman) would set at a keyboard and type and when a line was done hot lead was poured into the machine and out came a “line o type” which was then assembled into a sentence or paragraph. Now its done by a person setting at a computer keyboard and the “type” is etched into a sheet of plastic. Time is saved and people fired The way of the modern world

  10. Wolfe

    Well, this is timely… NY has a mandated $12.75 minimum wage in restaurants going into effect and BK installed these self serve order takers immediately in NY, McDonalds has them coming to ALL locations in NY, Dunkin Donuts will no longer serve anything but donuts so they are not a “restaurant”, and Marks Pizza (NY equivalent to Dominoes) is closing the EXACT number of stores to duck under the wage requirement. (per WHAM13.com)

    Politicians thought there would be no reaction to their unfunded mandate? Now thousands of New Yorkers who thought they’d get raises got pink slips….

  11. Neal Davis

    Oh, and I neglected to say, “thank you for the commentary!” Happy new year to Gail and you, Chuck! 🙂

  12. Neal Davis

    I think that I always enjoy reading your observations and wish that you had a few more YouTube videos presenting them. However, whether in print, or video form, I still enjoy them.

  13. Wolfe

    Supply and demand, cost vs value have always been king of the markets, regardless of meddlesome government tinkering and feel good utopian thinking. Make labor more expensive by force of law, and workers WILL be fired because income didn’t rise to meet costs. Rewarding good minimum wage workers was the intent of tipping, but now its just an extra expectation/tax on your biill. To avoid layoffs, your burger can cost $20, but then the burger joint goes under when no one buys at that price. Rules are rules, the bottom line is finite. Only governments can dream new money into existence.

  14. Scott Gitlin

    As already mentioned, these “robots” are not the result of a higher minimum wage – they are part of a business trend to automate wherever possible. As jobs at every level are eliminated, there are less choices for those who do not have the specific skills needed for the remaining areas of employment.

  15. PaulE

    The politician are so far removed from the real world, that they do not realize that businesses will not be told to pay a low level, low skill employee $15 per hour. Strange how the people who run our government always have such great ideas on how to spend other people’s money. And if we don’t like it, they force us to, by passing laws that make us. PS: McDonald and other fast food restaurants are not careers, but a way to supplement your income.

  16. Gene Bjerke

    For a while now I have been saying that the jobs of the future (quickly becoming the present) are in robotics or automation. More and more jobs are being replaced by machines. If you want a job, you should be one of the people designing, building, and maintaining the machines. Hopefully, you will be able to get those skills in a Community College, rather than having to go into debt to go to college.

  17. Nancy

    I’ve seen the McDonald’s “robots” in the Houston, Texas area also. The very first time the employee asked me if I’d like to try it, it malfunctioned, guess because it had just been installed the night before?

  18. Calvin Rittenhouse

    I’ve seen a Wendy’s that has automated ordering here in Columbus, Ohio. This is Wendy’s headquarters and a test market, so I don’t know if they’re widespread yet. I’ve been there twice and I’m not ready to learn how to make them work. A McDonald’s here also has them, but they still have the full human-staffed counter, so they’re not getting much action.

    The minimum wage story is a smokescreen. Those units have been in development for several years. By the way, minimum wage jobs have not been the province of teenagers for at least twenty years. I have been a minimum-wage worker in that time, and neither I nor my co-workers were “beginner” workers.

  19. Tommy Molnar

    As others have noted, “minimum wage” is equal to minimum skills. No one has ever said minimum wage is designed to support a family. It is designed to give unskilled newly immersed work a day world kids an opportunity to hone there “soft skills” (which are showing up on time every day). California’s outrageously high minimum wage will eventually come back and bite it. The market will only bear so much, then just go away. McDonald’s is simply saying, “If you make me do THIS, then I’m going to do THAT”.

    1. Greg Murphy

      I agree 100%.

  20. Doug S

    As long as you need the human to fulfill the order, they can still mess it up. Which is what happens to me every time I have used the “robot”. I don’t know if they’re trying to reduce personnel costs, or deliver better order accuracy, but they are delivering on NEITHER! So, I say, what’s the point of spending the money on the robots? I now have to engage 2 more employees (the cashier I should have gone to to begin with to get the manager to correct it) to get my order right. When will Chik-Fil-A start doing burgers? THEN I can expect proper service at an rate. I don’t mind those guys making $15 per hour. They consistently get the order right, and I suspect that if they automated, they would STILL get it right!

  21. Jrw

    Now I don’t have to try to communicate with one that does not fully understand English, cannot count change, and may even get the correct order out.

  22. Birdie

    The only way you can fight it is to stand in line. That is my standard at Walmart for the scanning machines. When prompted to move to the scanning line, I ask how much of a discount do I get for working my own checkout. After all, I am taking on someone’s job. I just stand in line. My option and I take! We don’t seem to get it …. the business model. Produce a product at a set cost and sell it to pay those set costs and make a profit. Yes a burger doesn’t cost much, but you have a building, equipment, utilities, administrative costs and that’s a lot of burgers to stay open. We need to look at the total cost. Like cook at home, make your own clothes. You know, like the ‘good old days’.

  23. John Chandler

    Raising the minimum wage can lead to noted results. The minimum wage is not designed to be a permanent, living wage. Most people do not remain at minimum wage for very long as it is designed for being used during the beginning, training phase of employment.

  24. Sharon

    These have been in Canada for quite some time. Self checkouts are common as well. As one person already commented, it is replacing unskilled labour. Just think about how long ATM’s have been around taking the place of tellers in financial institutions.

  25. Onwego

    Do you mean to tell me that creative and innovative business and technical people will out think politicians and deliver unintended consequences that will hurt those they sought to help?

  26. Judy Glazier

    Walmart, too, is moving away from humans, at least in the checkout lanes. One person observes and assists at the eight scanning stations. Retirees may soon join teenagers in not being able to find jobs to supplement their income.

  27. Ren

    They have them in South Florida too. Not just California.

  28. Leo Suarez

    Chuck, as you stated “business is business “. As long as people continue to demand higher wages for unskilled work, there will less and less need for them as businesses will find ways to displace the job with a cheaper alternative. Some might call this greed, but businesses exist to make money, not give it away.

  29. Edie Watson

    Way of the world! Spend less, keep more (business at its greediest.) However, I understand it, don’t want to fight it, just want a quick grilled chick salad and be on my way!

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