Is AI Taking Away Entry Level Fast Food Jobs?

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are everywhere. One of the recent areas of significant penetration is fast food and casual dining restaurants. Of course, restaurants’ stated reason for making such investments is the difficulty filling jobs, not to save money.

As of late May, there were nearly 1.2 million U.S. job openings in the combined restaurants and accommodations sector, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey  (JOLTS) data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This quantity of job openings equates to about 10% of total number of people currently working in the industry. Prior to the onset of COVID, the number of job openings only exceeded one million once in a twenty-year period. 

Some suspect the ultimate goal of the automation push could be a desire to shrink the work force needed to run fast food restaurants. Casey Warman, economics professor at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University, said in late 2022 that “once the machines are in place, they’re not going backward, especially if there’s large cost savings.”

Some notable restaurants and restaurant chains which are leading the way in automation include:

  • At some Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE: CMG) restaurants, a robot named “Autocado” cuts, cores and peels avocados. Chipotle says Autocado is a “collaborative robot;” it will not eliminate jobs. Instead, employees will work with it to speed up guacamole production.
  • In addition, Chipotle is testing a robot kitchen assistant, “Chippy,” that utilizes AI to make the tortilla chips a customer may dip into the guacamole prepared by Autocado. The company has also discussed the possibility of dishwashing robots.
  • Two Richmond, Virginia restaurants use the BellaBot robot waiters to deliver up to six plates of food to a table at a time. The robots are made by PuduTech, a company based in China.
  • A pizza shop in Woodland Park, New Jersey has automated almost every stage of its pie-making process. A machine presses the dough; lays the pizza on a conveyor belt; adds the requisite sauce, cheese, pepperoni, or sausage; and sends it off for baking. The shop has twenty employees but most of them are delivery drivers.
  • White Castle is testing a robot which can operate its fryer.
  • In December 2022, McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE: MCD) opened a test restaurant outside Fort Worth, Texas where drive-through customers pick up orders from a conveyor belt, not from a human being.

Information for this story was found via Edgar and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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