Yes, I still eat at McDonalds every once in awhile. Those of you who are judging me for this are clearly unfamiliar with the awesomeness of McGriddles. But anyhow, that’s another subject for another time.
The big news lately is that McDonalds’ stock price is hitting all-time highs due to technology upgrades at 2,500 locations (link). Digital ordering kiosks are replacing cashiers and McDonalds’ customers and shareholders are lovin’ it.
I recently picked up some breakfast at McDonald’s and discovered one of these ordering kiosks, which I had only heard about. And I must say…it was probably the easiest, quickest and most pleasant experience I’ve ever had at a fast food restaurant.
I’D RATHER NOT TALK
Without a doubt, interacting with a screen instead of a person was the key factor which led to the positive experience. I already spend 6-8 hours a day interacting with screens, so the 60 seconds it took to place my order on the digital kiosk was a breeze…and this was my first ever attempt.
I spend 2-4 hours a day interacting with people. And I must say…I’ve never really been good at it. Don’t get me wrong…I love people and I can turn on the pleasantries when necessary. But sometimes a guy just wants food and he wants it fast. He doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to be polite or make sure that a human understands his request. He just wants the food.
The same people who judged me for eating at McDonald’s are now judging me for this anti-social perspective, but I know I’m not the only one who wants food without a conversation. Most of the people who go to McDonald’s before 8am are there to buy coffee, which wakes them up enough to have conversations later in the morning. But any conversations about the coffee before 8am are unwanted.
If a sleepy commuter like myself is aching for caffeine and avoiding conversations, the last thing he wants to deal with is the slowness and the bad attitude of a human cashier. I can only imagine how many hours of my life I’ve spent waiting for a cashier to finish his/her conversation with another employee before taking my order. When I finally get their attention, they often have a “what do you want” look on their face. And if there’s any complexity to my order, they make it clear that I’m ruining their lives.
To avoid all of these early-morning offenses, I’ve always tried to keep my orders simple. It’s usually something like “I’ll have the #1.” You’d be surprised how often my #1 orders get messed up. I’m pretty sure I’m saying it right. But somehow, perhaps during their effort to press the #1 on the screen or maybe during another employee’s interpretation of what a #1 is, the order often gets messed up.
Related post: Coffee, I Don’t Love You Anymore
KIOSKS > HUMANS
I experienced none of these difficulties with my kiosk order. First of all, I immediately had the impression that the machine was waiting for me instead of me waiting for it. There was no line. I walked right up to the screen and got started. Finding and pressing the #1 button was surprisingly simple. Swiping my debit card for the payment was also simple, just like it is the 3-6 other times in the day when I use it to buy something. The attitude of the kiosk was neither good nor bad. In fact, the kiosk had no attitude at all. And that’s ok…after all, I wasn’t there for conversation. The only thing I wanted was the food.
The machine spit out a receipt which had an order number on it, so I stood by for no more than 2 minutes until that number was called. During that time, I wondered what happened to the cashiers who were replaced by the kiosks. Where do they work now? I also noticed they still have humans putting the food and the orders together. I wondered how long it would be before they too would be replaced by machines.
NEXT STEP FOR UNSKILLED LABOR
If automation and robotics are the trend in food service, what will happen to the humans who previously relied on food service jobs? I guess they’ll have to adapt and learn other skills to prove their worth in the market. In a society where cars will be driving themselves and drones will be delivering food to our front door, how long can anyone possibly expect to hold a job that a machine can do better and for less money?
There are some who are demanding a $15 minimum wage for all employees. I’m sure this rhetoric earns them a lot of votes and support, but I wonder if they realize they’re accelerating the transition to automation by McDonald’s and other companies. Faced with the choice between low-cost, efficient machines and high-cost, inconsistent employees, it’s a no-brainer.
Eventually, there will be only one employee working at McDonald’s; the guy (or girl) who makes sure all the machines are running smoothly…and this employee will be making much more than $15 per hour. This may be an exaggeration and it may never come to that. But if I were a button pusher, coffee pourer or hamburger flipper at any fast food restaurant, I wouldn’t count on working there much longer.
This economic shift is inevitable and already happening. Cashiers at grocery stores will also be replaced by faster, more efficient machines. Even the trucks that bring food to the store will no longer need truckers. They’ll be driven remotely by somebody far away. Glitches will be fixed and systems will be perfected.
Nobody likes the thought of anyone losing their job. But without hesitation, consumers will choose lower prices, better products and faster service when the opportunity presents itself. After all, the only thing we want is the food.