Chipotle Experiments With Robots While Waffle House Employees Demand $25/Hour

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Depending on the venue and the clientele and, of course, effort, waiters and waitresses (or is that waitrex?) can often make bank at their jobs. I waited tables with a guy who bought a car and a house on his earnings. Of course, this was back in the ’90s when money still had some semblance of value. There are other factors, including the locale and the menu, so actual results may vary. And it predates the days when someone expected a tip for handing you a pre-wrapped muffin over a counter.

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Traditionally, young people have held fast food jobs, although I have met people who started behind the register and worked their way up to manager with good salaries, spiffs, perks, and big bonuses, so it can be done. Ideally, a fast food job should be a part of transitioning to greater things.

Waiting is hard work. As is bussing, bar-backing, and cooking. As a waiter, I’ve had kids mouth off and throw food at me, the dine-and-dashers, and the people who demanded the highest level of service we offered and left a buck. Once, I had a bachelorette party where the diners flirted and squeezed my backside. But then they found out the management would not let them have a stripper in the dining room, so there went that tip. It can be a tough racket, and the people who work in it deserve respect.

BPR reports that this past weekend, workers at a Waffle House in Atlanta staged a protest organized by the Union of Southern Service Workers. They demanded $25 an hour for employees. They even brought a megaphone.

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I can certainly get behind the demand for security and an end to meal deductions. I was a busboy in high school and depended on that shift meal. And if they can secure $25 an hour, good for them. Of course, that is dependent on whether or not the restaurant and the industry can support it. But the world is changing, and there are fewer and fewer professions that do not have the bullseye of AI on their backs. Foodservice is certainly not immune. The last time I was in a McDonald’s, the only time I saw another soul was when someone brought me my food. So the timing may not be right for these demands.

Chipotle is looking into the idea of decreasing the payroll by increasing the technology. According to Fox 10 Phoenix, the restaurant chain is experimenting with a robot called Hyphen that can prepare salads and bowls, which means there is one less job that needs to be done. Chief Customer and Technology Officer Curt Garner told the station:

Chipotle’s new digital makeline built by Hyphen embodies our commitment to leveraging robotics to unlock the human potential of our workforce, ensuring an elevated dining experience for our guests. Our goal is to have the automated digital makeline be the centerpiece of all our restaurants’ digital kitchens.

Right now, they want to unlock the human potential. Then come the pink slips. The company has also been testing Autocado, a machine that makes guacamole. The station said that White Castle has announced that it will start using Flippy. Flippy can make burgers and serve fries. Wendy’s is teaming up with Google to create an AI that can interact with customers in the drive-through line.

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Karthik Namasivayam, the director of The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, has an interesting prediction. He sees a time in which 30% of restaurants will have human servers, and those will be the higher-end joints. The rest will be primarily staffed by robots.

So, Waffle House workers, if you get that $25 an hour, enjoy it while you can and save your money. Flippy and Autocado are probably on the way.

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