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McDonald’s bosses spar over automation effects

Former CEO believes higher minimum wage will lead to mass replacement of human workers.

mcdonalds, automation effects

McDonald’s Automation Effects

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Will automation kill jobs at McDonald’s? Current executives seem to disagree over that question with former bosses, at least as far as the adjunct issue of minimum wages is concerned.

Ed Rensi, who served as chief executive of McDonald’s USA between 1991 and 1997, last week told Fox News it would be a mistake to raise minimum wage to $15 (U.S.) an hour, as many labour advocates are pushing for.

Doing so would mean a rapid conversion by fast-food chains to robotic labour, he said. It’s cheaper, after all, to buy a $30,000 robot arm to bag French fries than it would be to employ a person to do the same.

“It’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe,” Rensi said. “It will mean wiping out thousands of entry-level opportunities for people without many other options.”

Current CEO Steve Easterbrook doesn’t agree. He believes automation may indeed take over some of the food preparation, but human workers would then transition over to other jobs. Burger-flipping employees could, for example, start spending more time directly with patrons by providing customer service.

“Ultimately we’re in the service business, and we’re competing with other opportunities for people to eat and drink out,” he said last week at McDonald’s annual meeting. “Frankly, we will always have an important human element.”

It’s hard to predict who will turn out right in the end, but at this point the advantage has to go to Easterbrook. McDonald’s hasn’t been shedding jobs in any large numbers as of yet, despite many restaurants already adding more automation.

Indeed, some employees at restaurants that have added self-serve kiosks are already acting as brand ambassadors and wait staff, rather than manning grills in the back or cash tills at the counter.

Anecdotally, I’ve found the new paradigm at my local McDonald’s to be a better experience from the customer’s point of view. Service via the automated kiosks is faster and more accurate, and I’ve even come to look forward to catching up with the gal whose job it is to wander around and chat up customers.

I, for one, welcome our new robot burger-flipper overlords.

1 Comment on McDonald’s bosses spar over automation effects

  1. Greater automation at McDonalds can’t come fast enough. Both of our local restaurants get a failing grade when it comes to order accuracy, speed, and customer service. In short, they suck. Would they do a better job if they were paid more? I doubt it. Good work is usually a function of pride, not pay. It’s so clear they have no pride in what they do. Of course, I’ve also been to McDonalds that don’t suck and it would be a shame for them to lose their jobs. But I have a feeling the great employees won’t have trouble finding other work.

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