McDonald’s has announced plans to roll out automated kiosks and mobile pay options at all of its U.S. locations, raising questions about the future of its 1.5 million employees in the country and around the globe.
Roughly 500 restaurants in Florida, New York and California now have the automated ordering stations, and restaurants in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., will be outfitted in 2017, according to CNNMoney.
The locations that are seeing the first automated kiosks closely correlate with the fight for a $15 minimum wage. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a new $15 minimum wage for New York state in 2016, and the University of California has proposed to pay its low-wage employees $15. Florida’s minimum wage will rise Jan. 1, 2017. Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 in 2014, followed by San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Customers place their order at touch screens, and then receive a number with a “digital locator,” which then notifies staff to where the customer is sitting. Once the order is ready to serve, a McDonald’s employee delivers the food to the customer’s table.
News of McDonald’s plans to expand its digital self-serve ordering stations and table service to all of its 14,000 American restaurants backs up concerns that the fight for $15 will expedite the growth of automation and robots. Aparna Mathur, resident scholar for economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that a push for a $15 minimum wage might just be enough for companies to expedite plans to automate industries such as fast food.
“We know that we don’t really need someone to take an order [fast food], and we will eventually have machines do it. It is risky to fight for something that could put you out of work,” Mathur told TheDCNF.
Instead of a fight for such a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, training programs and workforce education initiatives would be more beneficial to both employees and the employers, according to Mathur. She suggested that, “the only real solution is to enable these people to acquire a different skill set that does not let their job be wiped out by a machine
McDonald’s continues to undergo drastic changes as it looks to keep up with increasing competition and consumer demand for a diverse set of fast food options. The rise of sandwich chains and burrito restaurants, along with a shift towards health-conscious options has led to four straight years of traffic decline for McDonald’s.
The drastic change raises questions for its workforce, as Mathur discussed, which McDonald’s chief executive, Steve Easterbrook responded to Thursday. The CEO said that the new system will not reduce costs, but it would mean workers might have different jobs. “We’re not cutting crew; we’re redeploying them,” Easterbrook said, according to the Times.
It is unclear as to how the new changes will impact McDonald’s bottom line, but the billion-dollar burger joint is making a big bet on the move. Dick Adams, a restaurant consultant, told the Times that a lot of customers are never going to see the new technology. “It’s just not going to be that big of a factor for most franchisees outside big cities.”
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