Oh, robots! From delivering us pizza to becoming drinking buddies, making super-efficient ramen, and eventually replacing flight attendants with conveyor belts, robots promise a future of the service industry that's rife with improvements.
All of this is very promising for consumers, but not so much for the millions of manual laborers who work on the front lines of the food industry.
With the rise of the machines already upon us and a growing demand for better wages in fast food restaurants, some shrewd executives are realizing that it might be cheaper to just replace imperfect humans with more "polite" robots.
This was exactly the calculus being pondered by Carl's Jr. and Hardee's CEO Andy Puzder in a recent interview with Business Insider. "They're always polite, they always up-sell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case," Puzder said, referring to automated workers.
Puzder, who is famously outspoken and has written numerous op-eds about the risks of higher wages for fast food employees, said he was inspired by humanless restaurant chain Eatsa and could foresee a similar model for Carl's Jr. and Hardee's.
"I want to try it," Puzder said. "We could have a restaurant that's focused on all-natural products and is much like an Eatsa, where you order on a kiosk, you pay with a credit or debit card, your order pops up, and you never see a person."
For the Hardee's CEO, dehumanization of the service industry isn't the real problem—it's the government. "With government driving up the cost of labor, it's driving down the number of jobs," he says. "You're going to see automation not just in airports and grocery stores, but in restaurants." He has also taken to Twitter to defend his views.
But Puzder's rant didn't end with criticism of "progressives" like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. He went on to speculate that humanless restaurants are exactly what tech-addicted "millennials" want. "Millennials like not seeing people," he concluded.
We spoke with Kate Franklin, a representative with CKE, the parent company of the Carl's Jr., Hardee's, Green Burrito, and Red Burrito restaurant chains.
"Our CEO's comments about the potential use of automation in the retail sector have been taken out of context," Franklin told MUNCHIES. "His point was simply that large increases in the minimum wage would result in fewer jobs—which would be a bad thing for entry-level workers—in part because automation becomes a more viable option if wages accelerate too rapidly. CKE Restaurants greatly values its dedicated workforce and has no plans to fully automate its restaurants."