In Midtown Manhattan, there's a Chick Fil-A that's always busy. One day when I went there I had to be served by a girl who told me she was in college. I remember telling her about how those jobs would be automated away and she scoffed and laughed, thinking it was some fairy tale. Everytime I would go back there, she would remind me of when I said this and how "robots were coming to take (her) job" Now it's becoming a reality.
White Castle, the oldest fast food burger chain in existence, has begun rolling out automation at a few locations. In a partnership with Miso Robotics, they've deployed Miso's Flippy robot to 10 new locations, after a successful test run that started in July. Flippy is a fry cook robot that can work either the grill or flyer. It can be used in any kitchen, has 100,000 hours of continuous uptime, meaning it can work efficiently for at least a 5 years straight.
Check out this TechCrunch video of Flippy in action:
The Flippy Robot will cost $30,000 upfront, then $15,000 per year. Miso Robotics CEO Buck Jordan is focused on bringing this cost down, though.
“There’s a clear path to getting that down to 20K,” Jordan said. “I’m trying to chisel that down to 15K,… at that kind of price and these things have lifetimes of seven to ten years we can afford to take the loss upfront.”
When I read that, I immediately thought of the Fight For 15, when fast food workers had strikes, demanding to be paid $15 an hour. A full time fast food worker earning this much would earn $28,800. This isn't how much they'd cost their fast food employer though.
According to this article from timesheet software app BeeBole, an employee earning around $30,000 a year actually costs their employer $42,251. Also factor in the general nature of hiring another human. They'll have days where they don't want to come in, get sick, work at half capacity, and ultimately not care. If you hire female workers, you also have to factor in the possibility of them ever becoming pregnant.
Also if you check the site you'll see them mention a lawsuit against McDonald's for racial discrimination. The harsh truth is these companies are itching to get rid of these workers. It becomes clearer that they've become a liability and these corporations are focused on revenue and profit.
But all you have to do is Google 'Mcdonalds fight' and you'll find instances like this:
If you ever go into a fast food restaurant today, you'll see usually the workers don't even care about the jobs they work. They'd rather not be there. So now these restaurant brands will respond in kind. We already see the kiosks in the front, and now we have Flippy emerging on the scene.
Looking at the opportunity costs of automating fast food businesses, it's a no brainer. You remove the liability and develop a system where if you're a major franchise, your businesses will run itself and will be able to run efficiently 24/7 365. Flippy is just the beginning of fast food and other restaurant jobs going extinct. White Castle was the first fast food chain to implement the Impossible Burger patties, with other restaurants following suit.
I predict the next major brand to adopt this technology is Shake Shack (SHAK). With their very high volume, Flippy would be of great benefit to Danny Meyer's now global burger chain. Chick Fil-A will also be another brand that benefits greatly from Flippy, but they do pride themselves on excellent customer service, so I can see them preserving that.
If you grew up around the same time as I did, you'd remember the 3D cartoon Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. There was a specific episode, in which Jimmy began working at a burger joint, then immediately automated it. This episode seems like it was signalling to us what was to come. Watch it below:
Now it's happening in real life. Maybe the taste bud scanner is a ways off, but the burger flipping robots are here. They'll make fast food even faster. It's the people they replace that concerns me...