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Jack In the Box CEO Says 'It Just Makes Sense' To Replace Workers With Robots (grubstreet.com) 1012

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Grub Street: Per Business Insider, Jack in the Box CEO Leonard Comma told an industry crowd that "it just makes sense" to swap cashiers for inanimate machines in the year 2018. Not because he thinks 2018 will be the year that fast food gets technologized so much as it's the year that Jack in the Box's home state of California increases the minimum wage to $11. In fact, wage bumps hit 18 states this year, with California on pace to become the first $15-wage state in coming years -- a prospect that terrifies industry executives. Jack in the Box has flirted with the idea of installing automated kiosks before. As early as 2009, it tested them out, and apparently found that they increase store efficiency and average check totals -- not bad at all if money's your bottom line. But according to Comma, the chain's executives balked because the upfront cost of converting from people to machines was still too great. What a difference a dollar an hour apparently makes: He told the crowd that with "the rising costs of labor," it's time to start thinking about automating restaurants.

Jack In the Box CEO Says 'It Just Makes Sense' To Replace Workers With Robots

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  • Of course (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @10:33PM (#55898031)

    This is *exactly* what you should expect when you attempt to socially engineer a solution that violates the rules of business, in this case, artificially raising the cost of labor beyond the market value. One hundred percent entirely predictable, and predicted.

    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aleksander suur ( 4765615 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @10:40PM (#55898063)
      If you do the totals you get the same answer regardless, self service cashiers work out even in countries with 2-3x smaller minimum wage. You still need some cashiers to overseer the mechanical slaves, deal with customers experiencing technophobia or buying booze and tobacco.
      • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zaelath ( 2588189 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @11:58PM (#55898463)

        Where as in the US you pretend you can have a minimum wage below the poverty line then spend lots of tax dollars propping those people up with food stamps, etc, or just paying indirectly with theft and other criminal behaviour.

        Regardless of the stupid FOX talking point crap in this thread, people aren't just going to die because you think they should try harder.

        • Re:Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @12:49AM (#55898653)

          then spend lots of tax dollars propping those people up with food stamps, etc, or just paying indirectly with theft and other criminal behaviour.

          As opposed to the European way of making employees so expensive that you have 20% youth unemployment, who you then prop up with social programs, theft and other criminal behavior?

          I'm not opposed to minimum wage (and frankly I wish we'd just tie it to inflation so we don't need to constantly adjust it). But lets not pretend that this will magically get people off of government assistance or eliminate crime.

          • by mjwx ( 966435 )

            then spend lots of tax dollars propping those people up with food stamps, etc, or just paying indirectly with theft and other criminal behaviour.

            As opposed to the European way of making employees so expensive that you have 20% youth unemployment, who you then prop up with social programs, theft and other criminal behavior?

            I'm not opposed to minimum wage (and frankly I wish we'd just tie it to inflation so we don't need to constantly adjust it). But lets not pretend that this will magically get people off of government assistance or eliminate crime.

            I think their point was the terrible way the US runs it's welfare programs. Using obfuscation programs like food stamps to demean recipient in order to please angry old conservatives only makes the whole thing more expensive to run.

            BTW, the UK which is in Europe doesn't have the same youth unemployment problem as France, same with Germany (which is sucking up cheap labour as fast as it can). The Eurozone's youth unemployment statistics are skewed because of specific regions in France and Italy where ther

      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        A good CEO might have an impact on a company's bottom line, but a bad one can be worse than useless. Given that there are a lot more bad ones than good ones, perhaps it would make more financial sense to replace the CEO with a robot. It wouldn't even have to be a very smart one.
      • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @08:26AM (#55899847)

        If you do the totals you get the same answer regardless, self service cashiers work out even in countries with 2-3x smaller minimum wage. You still need some cashiers to overseer the mechanical slaves, deal with customers experiencing technophobia or buying booze and tobacco.

        This, stores have replaced checkouts in every state with self service checkouts... if it were just about the minimum wage then they wouldn't have bothered in states with low minimum wage. The biggest issue with adoption are the customers, as you correctly pointed out.

    • Re: Of course (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, companies needing minimum wage laws as an incentive to pay any wage at all are the problem. The CEO making these claims after the minimum wage went up by one silly dollar should be reason enough to not want to do business with him.

      If you pay minimum wage, you are saying that you would've paid less if it weren't illegal. You are saying that economy will fail if we abolish slave labour. People have been saying that for centuries, and guess what... They were wrong too.

      In your country, it is normal to

    • But this is exactly what we want.

      Increased productivity through automation.

      This is a nudge towards natural progress, bringing the future a few years earlier.

      The remaining employees will be more productive, and appropriately rewarded with more money. Jack in the box will have more sales, likely in high margin items (upsales tend to be).

      Hopefully taxpayers won't be subsidizing Jack in the box employees as much as they are paid more too.

    • They don't have to due business in the state, they can take their business elsewhere if they don't want to pay a livable wage.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by lucasnate1 ( 4682951 )

      And in a free market, exactly what is supposed to happen when the price of food is higher than one's salary?

    • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @11:10PM (#55898219)
      you could pay them .99 cents/hr and the machine would still be a better deal. The reason it's happening now is cheap, reliable microcontrollers and big, high res touch screens are finally widely available. Software is also a lot better. Most of these run some kind of unix (android/linux/etc). They'll have uptime measured in decades.

      10 years ago these systems were too unreliable to replace humans. They ran XP and crashed all the time. Business is all about reliability, repeatably, and low risk. A living wage didn't doom the jobs, better tech did.
    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

      by slack_justyb ( 862874 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @11:10PM (#55898221)

      Okay, I'm going to say it because everyone's going to make arguments that are overly complicated and the answer is actually quite simple. Other than 50+ year olds, pretty much you can take any modern register and turn it around to face customers instead and suddenly it is a self serve kiosk. Since 2006 to 2014 there's been massive leaps in the UI+hardware that you pretty much have registers that only require basic reading skills and the understanding of "touch based UI" to fully grasp. Cash registers pride themselves on things like minutes of training required for the average task, the end goal was to meet the needs of companies that literally need people fresh off the street being able to manage a till. This CEO talks about automation and it's clear he's suffering from IDTIMWYTIM. But whatever. The rise in minimum wage makes CEOs feel warm and fuzzy about doing something just like folks wearing black makes them feel warm and fuzzy that their countering gender inequality. We all know that they really aren't doing anything, but whatever. People like to point to useless gestures or baseless claims to justify a position that's always been happening with or without their input. At this point it happens so often that I'm pretty much convinced that the point of C-level staff in companies is pretty much gone. They exist at this point to sponge more money in their direction and that is all.

      artificially raising the cost of labor beyond the market value

      Dude, unless Crap-in-the-box can find some folks willing to work thirty cents an hour, it didn't matter what anyone did with wages, the writing is on the wall for pretty much all of us and no one with influence actually gives a flying fuck. But perhaps this will have the uptick that 80% of the world's population can finally die off and leave only the rich to suck each other's dicks. You know what happened when horse's were out matched tech wise? Better get used to saying neigh.

      • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

        by careysub ( 976506 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @11:20AM (#55901133)

        Or to simplify the point further: it is impossible for workers to under-price robots and self-service in the long-run, or the medium-run, or increasingly now even the short-run.

        There is no "dirt-cheap labor" solution to dealing with the increasing automation of work.

        CEOs want dirt cheap labor and they want robots to eliminate it at the same time. They aren't offering a deal - keep wages low and we will leave the jobs intact. They have no intention of doing that, and there is no actual promise being made by "Jack in the Box CEO Leonard Comma" to not automate if wages are not raised. Like those Carrier jobs that went to Mexico six months after they announced they were being "saved" a press release is not a deal, it is not a contract, it is not even a promise. It means nothing.

    • Re: Of course (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PoopJuggler ( 688445 )
      Except everything about your so-called "rule of business", whatever that means, is artificial. Everything above I-Takes-What-I-Wants-Or-I-Kill-You is artificial. There's nothing natural whatsoever about business. The minimum wage should be raised and automation taxed because those businesses are reaping the rewards of living in our nice society without returning anything. It's only because of those "artificial" things that society does (that you seem to hate) that even makes it possible for those scumbags
    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ljw1004 ( 764174 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @02:02AM (#55898853)

      This is *exactly* what you should expect when you attempt to socially engineer a solution that violates the rules of business, in this case, artificially raising the cost of labor beyond the market value. One hundred percent entirely predictable, and predicted.

      Sure, predictable, predicted. But go on and think through a bit further...

      The GDP isn't lessened by switching to robots. As a civilization/society/country, we're not producing any less by this transition. If anything we have the ability to produce more. The only difference is how society's production is apportioned to everyone.

      Some people believe that the right way to structure society is by using degrading low-paid jobs as a way to apportion a pittance to poor people. It sounds like you're in this camp. Is that because you believe there exists no other feasible way of apportioning, or because you think this is the best out of all feasible ways to apportion?

  • by I'm New Around Here ( 1154723 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @10:37PM (#55898049)

    Or, maybe it's the 10 years of advancing robotics and automation technology that has lowered the pricepoint to one that is acceptable. A decade is a long stretch for tech, and the price per performance is steadily dropping.

    • Not just price (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @11:14PM (#55898253)
      reliability. That's why everyone ignores. Open source means cheap, super reliable software. Tech advancements means the same for hardware. LCDs last for decades now. You can run these off a $20 64 gig compact flash and unlike a hard drive they last decades. Modern touch screens just work, they don't need to be recalibrated as the display ages. And the screens don't fade in a few years as long as you keep 'em out of direct sunlight.

      They had these kiosks in the 90s and early 2000s. 80% of the time they were dumped to a BSOD or a command prompt because the software crashed or the hardware failed.
  • is that word, "restaurant." Did they call that giant vending machine for cars a dealership?
  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @10:50PM (#55898119)

    If robots are available, less expensive, and acceptable to consumers... the CEO who DOESN'T replace their workers with them is a CEO presiding over a failing company. Because while they're not doing it, others are, and have greater profit margins to work with.

  • by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @10:52PM (#55898133)

    Never try to extort someone for more than the cost to have you killed.

  • by 50000BTU_barbecue ( 588132 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @11:00PM (#55898175) Journal

    Replacing fast food with home-cooked meals.

  • I'm just wondering (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MeNeXT ( 200840 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @11:16PM (#55898265)

    How many meals will these new cashiers purchase.

    • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @11:53PM (#55898437)
      the theory goes that if the rich don't pay people there will be no one to buy things. It ignores what it means to be truly rich. Like, member of the Aristocracy kind of rich. You control all of civilizations wealth. You don't need people to buy things to get more money because you already have all the money. Everybody is falling over themselves to do your bidding because if they don't they starve to death. And the few who rebel get beaten down by your knights (or militarized police if you want to modernize it).

      What I'm saying is, don't kid yourself. The rich don't need us. On the other hand, we don't need them either.
      • by slyborg ( 524607 )

        The OP was pointing out that rich people tend not to spend a lot of time at McDonald's. So if you eliminate the wage tier that does go to McDonald's, the business collapses, automation or no automation because you can't turn thousands of fast-food restaurants into gourmet dining establishments for the wealthy.

        Even in the Roman Empire, which was essentially dependent on literal slave labor, 30%-40% of the population were enslaved, and this in a literal plutocracy. So look on the bright side, even in the drea

      • Not in the U.S. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @04:34AM (#55899229)
        Or most of the OECD for that matter. The "Aristocracy" rich mostly exists in developing countries where they control the vast majority of the wealth. In those countries they're big fish in little ponds, and maintain their status not only by being rich, but by preventing others from becoming rich. The economy of these countries mostly consists of (by volume) the rich selling and buying to/from each other. The GDP per capita in these countries typically stagnates at around $15,000/yr or below.

        The U.S., EU, etc. grew past this stage around the 1900s. Henry Ford accidentally stumbled upon this when he discovered that paying his workers above the prevailing wage actually resulted in more business for himself (because his workers could afford to buy the cars he was producing). That's what happens when you (1) put a worker in a productive job, and (2) pay them a fair wage for the productivity they're generating. Basically, when pay your workers less than a fair wage, you make money for yourself, but you stunt the economy. When you pay your workers a fair wage, you spend more money, but the economy blossoms. Usually more than enough to offset the extra money you spent paying your workers.

        A market economy *wants* everyone to be as productive as they can, because the feedback effect of that maximizes average income. GDP per capita in these countries is typically $30,000/yr or higher because the vast majority of the population is contributing a meaningful amount of productivity to the economy. Consequently, the vast majority of the rich in these countries are rich from selling things to the middle class (who by population and aggregate income are much bigger than the richest 1%*). If the average income of the middle class decreases in these countries, it ends up hurting the rich too.

        * IRS tax stats [irs.gov] show that the top 1% only makes about 20% of the income in the U.S. So if they began buying and selling only amongst themselves and replacing everyone else with robots, that would result in about an 80% pay cut for themselves. The bulk of the country's income (73%) is in the $30k-$500k per year wage range, and it's in the best interest of the 1%ers in the U.S. to insure those people continue to have jobs.
        • The U.S., EU, etc. grew past this stage around the 1900s.

          Income inequality is worse now than it was in the 1920's. A handful of billionaires have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the country.

          A market economy *wants* everyone to be as productive as they can, because the feedback effect of that maximizes corporate profits.

          Productivity has been climbing for decades but wages have remained completely stagnant.

          Henry Ford accidentally stumbled upon this when he discovered that paying his workers above the pr

        • If the average income of the middle class decreases in these countries, it ends up hurting the rich too.

          Unless the rich can compensate for that in other ways, like successfully lobbying for lower taxes on the rich.

  • by schematix ( 533634 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2018 @11:19PM (#55898285) Homepage
    A touch screen ordering kiosk IS NOT a robot! Very different animal and an order of magnitude easier to implement that the food preparation side. I'm all for this technology though. It'll do wonders for food consistency and order accuracy. The food prep side is not trivial from a mechanical perspective and is likely another decade or two away from real implementation. To do it efficiently requires a lot of special purpose equipment. The kitchens will also need to be laid out differently to allow the proper flow of raw ingredients to finished product. Cleaning all those moving parts isn't trivial either. Not to mention the flexibility to add new menu items and adapt existing equipment. And if even a simple part breaks... well who's going to make the food?
  • by zoid.com ( 311775 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @12:22AM (#55898543) Homepage Journal

    How is this different than an ATM? It serves the same function of replacing a person with a kiosk.

  • PR Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by locater16 ( 2326718 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @01:09AM (#55898719)
    Can you spot the PR bullshit in this statement?

    No, it's the not the part where replacing people with machines is cheaper and more efficient. Of course it's more efficient, and will get cheaper every year. Indeed it's the cheap shot at the minimum wage rising that's bullshit. They were going to replace cashiers anyway, whether it rose or not. Watch them do it in states with rock bottom minimum wage. But hey, if you can try to repeal minimum wage laws while deflecting potential bad PR from firing people then that's just a double win.
  • I guess we'll see (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @01:50AM (#55898819)

    How many CEO's and managers are left after AI's can do their job. Think of the cost savings to the shareholders.

    My only other observation is self service checkouts in supermarkets.

      I avoid them like the plague if I have more than 5 ot 6 items, because after that, it's not faster, or more convenient than a cashier. Supermarkets will need to come up with something way better than what they have now, or pay me to do my own checkout.

  • Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @03:40AM (#55899091) Homepage

    Dunno about you guys but my local McDonald's did this a few years ago, as have many others.

    Massive touchscreens in the foyer, tap and order from the whole menu, then just wait for the guy to bring it out. Hell, it even tells you how many orders are in front of you, etc. and you can make every tiny change imaginable to the ingredients.

    Sure, they still have kitchen staff (we're not suggesting automating the kitchens, right? That's just a food-safety nightmare waiting to happen and how do they clean themselves?). But they have JUST kitchen staff, who get a list, put the food on the tray and deal with the cooker alerts etc.

    It's much faster and more efficient than any McDonald's I've ever used, you can order while ten people are dithering over what to have, you can even assign a seat and have it brought over to you. And, at the end of the day, it's the same food.

    I've said for years that restaurants should do this - even posh ones. Tying up waiting staff with orders, corrections, menus, allergy queries etc. is daft when people are quite capable of doing all that themselves - sometimes before they've even sat down. And then BOTH of you have a cast-iron receipt of what was ordered and how. So long as the food delivered tallies, what does it matter?

    "So what's in the sea bass?" "Press ingredients, ma'am".
    "Can we split this bill?" "Press split bill, sir."
    "Do you have any pork left?" "Only what the menu will let you select, sir".

    If Jack-in-the-box have already trialled this I can't understand why they haven't been fitting it to all new stores and starting doing it for refurbishments. There's literally no reason not to, even if you don't replace ALL the staff immediately.

    • we're not suggesting automating the kitchens, right? That's just a food-safety nightmare waiting to happen and how do they clean themselves?

      Actually, that is exactly what eventually happen.
      No, it is not a food safety nightmare waiting to happen. Robots already prepare food at much larger scale in factories.
      They don't have to clean themselves. Instead of having four to eight employees and a manager each shift, there will be a manager and maybe one or two employees who will keep the robots stocked with ingredients and keep them clean and maintained.

    • I stopped in at a White Castle (Oh, I loves it so much) in Columbus, OH about a year ago that was kiosk-only ordering. Man, let me tell you that it was GREAT! You could customize every single burger or item to any degree you wanted with no problem. I couldn't imagine needing to replicate the same order with a person behind a counter. This burger with extra onions and pickles, this burger with bacon, this burger with this cheese and that burger with that cheese. It would be a lot of "hold on sir, what d

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