- - Monday, September 8, 2014

The right way to get a raise is to make yourself more valuable to your employer. The wrong way is to protest and demand a higher minimum wage for everyone.

Fast-food protesters defeat their goal if they’re replaced by machines. That backfire has begun. “Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines” grossed almost half-a-billion dollars but that’s minor compared to what fast-food businesses might save if they terminate jobs that machines can do instead.

Taking orders. Being a cashier. Flipping burgers. One new machine can cook, assemble and wrap an entire hamburger, custom-cooked as ordered via a self-service kiosk. No order-taker, no cook, no cashier.

Fast-food jobs can be replaced by automation just as ATMs have replaced cashiers and online websites have replaced human order-takers and travel agents.

Government provides extra incentive. Obamacare makes it thousands of dollars costlier to hire someone. Minimum-wage increases put humans at an even-larger cost disadvantage compared to machines.

The labor union-sponsored protests demand $15 an hour. They may prove a success for companies that provide automation systems but a disaster for the protesters.

Restaurant automation got a head start in Europe, where government edicts on wages, hours, time off and vacations have escalated faster than in America.

Self-service kiosks have arrived, sometimes on a large-scale and others on a trial basis, and companies like the result. White Castle technology director Don Long told a trade publication, “The average check is 20 percent higher than our non-kiosk stores. People really order different things when they use kiosks.”

They also order more when using a computer or smartphone app to order in advance.

McDonald’s has installed thousands of terminals at European outlets and is doing trial runs in the USA. KFC has begun in Europe, India and New Zealand,  and America is expected to be next.

Both Chili’s and Applebee’s have begun to put a tablet PC at every table to take orders. It also provides at-your-wish entertainment and add-on sales features. Plus you can take selfie photos as you eat. Their vendor, Ziosk, brags that over 200-million guests have already been served with its tablet ordering system in its first 1,000 U.S. locations.

Buffalo Wild Wings announced tablets will be installed at about 500 locations by the end of this year and all North American locations by the end of 2015. Their vendor, BuzzTime, says these will include tabletop interactive games that engage the whole location, such as trivia and poker.

Panera Bread says eight kiosks per store will reduce the long lines and improve quality of service. CEO Ron Shaich told Businessweek “The dirty little secret in the food industry is one in seven orders is wrong. … Half of those inaccuracies happen during order input.”

The lesson: Fast-food order-takers who want a raise would do better to improve their accuracy than to march in the streets. But it might be too late for many of them. Jack-in-the-Box has order-taking boxes, even at drive-thrus. El Pollo Loco is joining the trend also. Subway is experimenting. And Burger King. And Arby’s. And others.

Restaurateurs hope that automation will boost speed and sales. So some predict more kitchen workers will be needed, offsetting the lost jobs of order-takers.

But not even jobs for cooks and kitchen workers are safe. A new machine from Momentum Machines promises to let customers order their own custom-cooked hamburger and the machine then cooks the meat, adds lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, sauces, whatever you want — untouched by human hands. It also wraps the burger.

Momentum Machines trumpets, “Because we have eliminated the line cook, we have also eliminated the kitchen.” The company calls itself “the next Industrial Revolution.”

It’s not quite a Star Trek replicator that synthesizes whatever food and beverages you want, but it’s a step beyond flipping burgers.

Machines may be about to go where many men have gone before. The “We demand a raise” protesters may be making a trip as well. To the unemployment line.

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