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The cost of machines, even sophisticated ones, has fallen significantly in recent years, dropping 40 percent since 2005, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
Labor, meanwhile, is getting expensive, as some cities and states pass laws raising the minimum wage.“We think we’ve hit the point where labor-wage rates are now making automation of those tasks make a lot more sense,” Bob Wright, the chief operations officer of Wendy’s, said in a conference call with investors last February, referring to jobs that feature “repetitive production tasks.” Wendy’s, Mc Donald’s, and Panera are in the process of installing self-service kiosks in locations across the country, allowing customers to order without ever talking to an employee.
The early success of the kiosks suggests that, at least when ordering fast food, patrons prize speed over high-touch customer service.
Will companies like Cali Burger and Panera see sufficient value in employing human greeters and soup-and-sandwich deliverers to keep those positions around long-term? The start-up restaurant, based in San Francisco, allows customers to order its quinoa bowls and salads on their smartphone or an in-store tablet and then pick up their order from an eerie white wall of cubbies—an Automat for the app age.
Starbucks encourages customers to order on its mobile app; such transactions now account for 10 percent of sales.
The “head chef,” incongruously named Andrew, specializes in okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake.The type of person who orders a grain bowl on an i Phone is perhaps content to forgo a welcoming human face.There may not be enough such people to sustain a business, however, at least not yet.Panera customers typically retrieve their food from the counter themselves.But at restaurants where they place their orders at kiosks, employees now bring food from the kitchen to their tables.
Using his two long arms, he stirs batter in a metal bowl, then pours it onto a hot grill. S., the company that runs the restaurant, as well as a nearby hotel where robots check guests into their rooms and help with their luggage, turned to automation partly out of necessity.