The best fast-food restaurants will be human-robot hybrids

Full automation envisioned by Carl’s Jr. CEO isn’t likely to appeal to socialized human patrons.

carl's jr, human-robot hybrids

Human-Robot Hybrids:

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Add Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s to the list of fast-food chains considering going fully automatic. Andy Puzder, the chief executive of both California-based companies, says robots have a number of advantages over human workers, which is why he wants to try automating his restaurants.

“They’re always polite, they always upsell, 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,” he tells Business Insider.

Puzder’s comments come with equal side portions of logic and politics. On the hand, he points out that the rising cost of labour and the dropping cost of automation are pointing toward the inevitable. On the other hand, he also blames Democratic presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for wanting to raise minimum wages.

“Does it really help if Sally makes $3 more an hour if Suzie has no job?” he says.

Puzder says he was inspired by a recent trip to Eatsa, a new fast-food chain that serves automation as its main course. Patrons of the San Francisco-based company’s outlets order at a touch screen kiosk, then pick up their food at automat-style windows. Throughout their visit, they never see a human:

Eatsa is perhaps not a good example, considering its restaurants aren’t actually fully automated. Humans still make the food and then place it in cubby holes for pickup, so they’re there – they’re just not visible.

For a fully automated restaurant, Puzder may want to look further afield. The Robot Restaurant in Harbin, China, for one, has robots that cook and serve food. It’s ironically the empty Eatsa outlets that look cold and inhuman in comparison.

Fully automated restaurants – at least in North America – are unlikely in the near term, mainly because human interaction is still an important and long-held social part of consuming meals. A more likely scenario is a hybrid model, where increasing automation is supplemented by good, old fashioned people skills.

McDonald’s is doing a bang-up job with this approach. Besides adding self-order kiosks, the chain now also has employees who chat up patrons as they order and while they eat. One job is being replaced by a more efficient machine, but another is being added that is solely based around the human touch.

Some patrons may not want to be bothered by other people while they eat, but others may be reassured by the efforts to maintain the social aspect of meals. After all, no one wants to eat in some cold, sterilized food factory.

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