McDonald’s revealed a test restaurant near Fort Worth, Texas, earlier this month in which automation technology replaces many positions formerly held by employees, drawing mixed reactions from conservatives and liberals.
The fast food behemoth announced that customers can use kiosks and a mobile app to grab their orders from a conveyor belt rather than interacting with customer-facing staff. The concept is designed to give the restaurant team “the ability to concentrate more on order speed and accuracy, which makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone,” Keith Vanecek, the franchisee operating the restaurant, said in a press release.
Conservative-leaning commentators noted that the restaurant concept comes after activist campaigns and left-wing politicians spent years calling for minimum wage hikes. The new test restaurant also hits the marketplace as historic labor shortages present difficulties to companies attempting to fill their payrolls, worsening inflationary pressures and supply chain bottlenecks.
“The real minimum wage is zero and you are always replaceable,” BASEDPolitics President Hannah Cox said on social media, alluding to a phrase favored by conservative economist Thomas Sowell. “If you want more money find a way to add more value. Anyone telling you differently has no idea how to eradicate poverty.”
Liberal-leaning commentators rebutted such arguments. Fight for 15, an activist group demanding a minimum wage of $15 per hour, said that the restaurant shows workers “need to demand” higher pay. “Maybe it’s time for broad worker solidarity so we can fight back.”
“They’d rather fire people than have less profits,” comedian Billy Procida added. “This is the problem.”
On a less serious note, writer Patrick Casey observed: “On the bright side at least the ice cream machine will work.”
McDonald’s has made several recent pushes toward increased automation. The company partnered with IBM to automate drive-thrus and unveiled voice-ordering technology at multiple Chicago restaurants last year after purchasing several artificial intelligence startups. “Do I think in five years from now you’re going to see a voice in the drive-thru? I do, but I don’t think that this is going to be something that happens in the next year or so,” McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said at an investor conference.
Beyond large corporations, worker shortages and higher wage pressures have prompted roughly 30% of small businesses to implement new technology systems, according to a poll from Morning Consult conducted last year.
Some policymakers nevertheless continue to call for increased pay in the restaurant services industries. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signed the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act three months ago, creating a Fast Food Council empowered to raise minimum wages for the industry up to $22 per hour, representing an increase of over 40% from the $15.50 per hour minimum wage slated to take effect in 2023.
A report published last year by the Congressional Budget Office found that a nationwide minimum wage of $15 per hour would result in 1.4 million job losses, even as 900,000 workers are lifted from poverty. Such a wage hike would affect 17 million workers whose pay would otherwise be below the threshold.