Order up: Robots may take over Carl’s Jr.
More concerned with an increase in the minimum wage than an apocalyptic robot uprising, one major fast food chain CEO is committed to investing in a person-free workforce. The industry’s reputation for employing surly teens may be coming to an end.
Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder believes that fully-automated eateries are the future since his visit to Eastsa, one such establishment located in Canoga Park, California.
"If you're making labor more expensive, and automation less expensive — this is not rocket science," Puzder told Business Insider.
Puzder believes that robo-restaurants will eventually take over all fast food chains, not just for Carl’s Jr., but for now, he says he will only pursue this dream as his company expands the chain Hardee’s presence in the Northeast.
"I want to try it," Puzder told BI. "We could have a restaurant that's focused on all-natural products and is much like an Eatsa, where you order on a kiosk, you pay with a credit or debit card, your order pops up, and you never see a person."
While the idea of not interacting with another person may appeal to those who fear extra ingredients on their burgers, it could mean trouble for those currently employed in the fast food industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that was 4.7 million people in 2014.
The average fast food employee is 29 years old with a high school diploma, many of whom are single parents, The Washington Post reported. With a median pay of $8.92 an hour, one fifth of fast food employees’ families live below the poverty line – costing the US government $7 billion in welfare payouts.
Puzder believes that raising the minimum wage will be worse for fast food employees in the long run.
"With government driving up the cost of labor, it's driving down the number of jobs," he says. "You're going to see automation not just in airports and grocery stores, but in restaurants."
Whether or not the minimum wage is increased, Puzder makes a case for moving over to fully automated restaurants for other reasons. "They're always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case," says Puzder of the benefits of machines versus man.
Burger flippers do not need to panic yet. There is still a ways to go before fully-automated restaurants produce the kind of consistency consumers demand. In addition, there is the issue that older customers may not be comfortable using technology in lieu of a human. The opposite is true of millennials, however.
"Millennials like not seeing people," the Carl’s Jr. CEO said. "I've been inside restaurants where we've installed ordering kiosks ... and I've actually seen young people waiting in line to use the kiosk where there's a person standing behind the counter, waiting on nobody."