Panera Bread recently announced its plans to replace the majority of its cashiers with automated kiosks by late 2016. In a move similar to many supermarkets and pharmacy chains like CVS, the kiosks would allow customers to check out and pay without interacting with a human employee. Panera also plans to incorporate other options, such as mobile ordering, for customers.
Automated kiosks have already been tested by major fast food corporations in overseas locations. According to the Daily Caller, for instance, all McDonald’s locations in France have kiosks installed in order to reduce the amount of human workers.
In the United States, experimentation with automated workers has been more limited. Jack in the Box already has an automated kiosk that allows customers to order and pay for food rather than interacting with a cashier. Still, there is typically an option to order at the counter if a customer does not opt to use the kiosk.
It is an interesting time to test automated workers in the fast food department, especially since nation-wide support for minimum wage hikes has been steadily increasing. There is a strong group of protesters — many of whom are employed by fast food restaurants — pushing for a minimum wage increase to $15. While that number may seem steep, Seattle has already announced its plan to gradually raise its city minimum wage to that level in coming years. President Obama supports a federal increase to $10.10, and a few states have already passed laws to match that proposed number.
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The decision to replace human workers with automated kiosks is seen by some as a way to cut additional costs that may arise from a minimum wage increase. This, of course, causes further problems because it leads to less entry-level jobs.
Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich, however, has voiced his support for a minimum wage increase. His political contributions also include a $35,800 donation to the Obama Victory Fund, according to the Washington Examiner.
Shaich’s new business plan will likely be seen as a testing ground for the industry. According to a report from CNN Money, however, Technomic food industry researcher Darren Tristano estimates that the introduction of automatic workers will be slower than expected.
“If you look at the thousands of years that consumers have been served alcohol and food by people, it’s hard to imagine that things will change that quickly,” Tristano said.
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Panera’s plan is only two years away from completion, and it will be worth watching to determine whether or not automated workers are successful and how that will impact human employees.