The political successes of the $15 dollar minimum wage movement may be intensifying the interest restaurant chains have in automating their businesses. The Washington Post reports on the buzz about turning more restaurant work over to robots:
Dave Brewer is chief operating officer with Middleby Corp., which owns dozens of kitchen equipment brands, and is constantly developing new ways to optimize performance and minimize cost.
“The miracle is, the wage increase is driving the interest,” Brewer said. “But the innovation and the automation, they’re going after it even before the wages go up. Why wait?”
The labor-saving technology that has so far been rolled out most extensively — kiosk and tablet-based ordering — could be used to replace cashiers and the part of the wait staff’s job that involves taking orders and bringing checks. Olive Garden said earlier this year that it would roll out the Ziosk system at all its restaurants, which means that all a server has to do is bring out the food.
In other words, the unprecedented push for a $15 minimum wage, which is winning over city councils and wage boards on both coasts, might begin to cost fast-food workers their jobs even before anyone even gets a raise. The trend toward automation would take place even without minimum wage hikes, but the Post piece suggests that the $15 minimum movement could accelerate the process.
As we’ve said before, you cannot defy the laws of economic gravity; if labor becomes very costly, employers will do their best to cut back. Thanks to the rapid advance of technology, they have more, and more sophisticated, options than ever before.