I was involved in updating and testing a router upgrade at work today, so I didn’t make it home until close to 9pm. Now, after a couple of bean-and-cheese-and-salsa burritos (made myself from scratch, duh, though I didn’t make the refried beans, shredded cheese, or salsa by hand!), I’m thinking about food. And about labor costs.
What, labor costs? Yes, labor costs, the bane of restaurant owners everywhere. Every single restaurant owner on the planet hates, hates hates labor costs and does everything under his power to get them down. Labor accounts for the majority of the expense of running a restaurant, and human beings are annoyingly unreliable. They get pregnant, they get flat tires on the way to work, they catch the flu at the most inopportune time, it’s just ridiculous. And they get annoyed when you send them home because customers didn’t show up. What’s with that, them wanting blow your budget when you’re not making the money to pay them?!
So for decades upon decades, restaurant owners have dreamed, fantasized, utterly drooled in their sleep at night, about the possibility of replacing human workers with machines. This dream seemed almost in reach when the coin-operated vending machine was invented. Finally, at last, the dream became true, with the invention of the mighty Automat!
Yet by 1990 they were all gone, closed or replaced by Burger Kings. Why? Well, the technology simply wasn’t flexible enough. It didn’t give people enough choices. Rising prices also meant that they had to have dollar bill readers installed, and those were notoriously flakey in that day and age.
So anyhow, now some fast food restaurants are experimenting with computerized kiosks for taking your orders. Beep beep boop on the screen, insert your credit card into the card reader, then wait for your food to appear. So the question is this: Does the minimum wage have anything to do with this?
In a word: No. If one of these kiosks costs $5,000 and will last five years, it will pay for itself whether the minimum wage is $5/hour or $15/hour. That’s $20/week, or only four hours time of a cashier at $5/hour. And you’ll need that cashier for far more than four hours a week.
Yet I still hear idiot conservatives whine that a $15/hour wage for fast food cashiers is the reason that these kiosks are appearing. No. Just no. Clearly these conservatives have never managed a fast food restaurant. Clearly these conservatives have no clue as to the dream, the lust I say, for eliminating as many of those pesky human beings as possible from the payroll, a lust that has been foiled only because, in the past, the technology simply didn’t exist to make it happen. Fast food restaurants rolled out fill-your-own-cup soda dispensers when Ronald Reagan’s minimum wage of $3.35/hour had crashed the value of the minimum wage to its lowest real value in decades, because that let them cut a few hours a week that workers spent filling soda cups. If they would do that for just a few hours a week, think about what saving forty hours a week does to a fast food manager’s loins! Why, I suspect that if those machines actually work, they’ll need to be sanitized every morning before the restaurant opens because the manager will have slobbered all over it from multiple orifices in his joy at having that technology replacing a worker!
Of course, will the machines work? Or will people bypass them to order from a human cashier? I guess we’ll find out. But we’ll find out whether the minimum wage is $5/hour, or $15/hour. Because regardless of the minimum wage, being able to cut a cashier from the payroll… dude. What do you think fast food managers fantasize about in order to get it up when they’re having sex with their girlfriend, wife, or mistress, already? It ain’t their girl’s boobs they’re fantasizing about, dude. It’s fantasies about machines that let them cut payroll, guaranteed!
– Badtux the Former Fast Food Penguin