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Someone has finally perfected the device that we must have known would eventually be built, namely a fast-food robot that will not only make French fries but also assemble hamburgers and package them for sale across the counter.
This comes after decades in which human beings have been relied upon to flip our patties and shake out our fries, to mustard our buns and to tuck in a piece of lettuce. Decades, I might add, in which the humans given these chores have been paid some of the lowest wages in the job market and frankly remain woefully under-trained in anything beyond flipping and mustarding.
What’s more, the humans have to go home after eight hours or so and recuperate, wash themselves, feed their families, sleep, pay their bills, and do it all over again the next day.
Apparently, this just hasn’t been cost-efficient.
The robot, I’m told, will do all the burgers and fries, or whatever it’s programmed to do, and never complain, never demand higher wages, never fail to show up for work because of a flat tire or a sickly baby, never forget the ketchup, and never need disciplining.
As an aside, I’d like to see the day when customers are allowed to take turns in the machine room spanking a robot on its bottom because the onion rings were floppy.
Never mind that. The point is that for about $30,000 a fast-food franchise can equip its restaurant with a machine that will just keep on going long after all the employees have had to shuffle home.
This isn’t the same concept as the once-popular Automat that could be found at big train stations in most major cities, a wall of take-away or dine-in foods prepared in a kitchen and sold through little doors in the style of a vending machine. The Automat was innovative, convenient and quick, and its foods were freshly made right there on the other side of the vending wall. All the food on the menu was right there, ready to eat.
But the Automat was still supplied by humans.
This isn’t about being convenient. It’s about replacing the humans on the lowest rungs of the job market ladder because they can no longer be relied upon to guarantee a franchise’s profit.
Someone is replacing fallible humans, prone to malfunction and difficulty, with machines that are apparently more dependable and consistent, much as Henry Ford mechanized the car assembly line over a hundred years ago.
I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’d like to eat food that was made by a machine.
I think I’d like to know that a young worker beginning a path in the adult world is going to benefit at least a little from my patronage. I happen to care about the humans who make my hamburgers. I was one of them once, and I know what kind of job it was.
Not a week goes by that I don’t hear managers or employees complaining about high staff turnover in local shops and eateries. Countless are the times I’ve had to correct a cashier in making change. I’ve often heard friends complain that service was surly or somehow incompetent.
That doesn’t tell me anyone should be replaced by a robot.
Apart from what it says about corporate greed, it tells me there should be a training course in cashiering, in customer service, in food safety and preparation… the kind of basic common-sense education that used to be taught in school or that managers used to have time to offer the newbies. It tells me that the humans entering the workforce need to be drilled in how to do the job correctly, how to be courteous, how to serve a customer respectfully and how to be thankful for the business.
Many things that a robot, honestly, won’t be programmed to do.
Millions of dollars are spent every year supporting families whose income has gone south because of job loss or failure to earn promotion. Much of that money could go to customer service boot camp, to certification in cash handling, to proper training that will make an entry-level job applicant hireable, ready to begin work.
Unplug the damn robot. We have humans to take care of first.