Why Fast Food Is the Ticking Time Bomb of Job Automation

Photo: Scott Olson (Getty)On Tuesday, the automation-focused meme candidate Andrew Yang tweeted, “Fast food may be first.” He was commenting on a new CNBC report that reported annual employee turnover rates of 100 percent at the Panera Bread chain—a figure that is low for the fast food industry, which can see annual turnover of up…

Why Fast Food Is the Ticking Time Bomb of Job Automation

Photo: Scott Olson (Getty)On Tuesday, the automation-focused meme candidate Andrew Yang tweeted, “Fast food may be first.” He was commenting on a new CNBC report that reported annual employee turnover rates of 100 percent at the Panera Bread chain—a figure that is low for the fast food industry, which can see annual turnover of up to 150 percent. Those figures may seem ridiculous, but they’re a reality: The fast food restaurants regularly see more than their entire workforce turn over every year. And that is why industry experts—and Andrew Yang—warn that it’s ripe for automation and may be the first field to become entirely automated.They’re right that fast food is as ripe as any industry is for transformative automation. Typically, one of the major sources of resistance to automating a process, task, or entire job is the impact it will have on a salaried employee. Layoffs look bad for the company doing the automating, there are myriad social factors in play that create resistance—management will be reluctant to fire longtime employees, for one—and there is risk involved in setting up new machinery, which may take years to get running smoothly. But in an industry that turns its entire staff over every year—especially one in which the bulk of its jobs are intended to be an agglomeration of repetitive tasks like taking and inputting orders, adding and arranging ingredients to a dish, and cleaning floors and tables—corporations and middle management will spend a lot less time weighing social factors and nursing concerns about optics. Hell, fast food is already one of the worst-regarded jobs because workers are openly treated with so little dignity, the benefits range from threadbare to nonexistent, and the wages are so low. All of which is to say: As soon as the fast food companies can automate those jobs, they will. The only things preventing those companies from doing so
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