Tag Archives: Automation

The Last Fast Food Worker in California

Who will be the last fast food worker in California?

Yesterday, California passed a new law dramatically raising fast food wages.

It sounds like a victory for the working class. But it’s likely to put them out of a job. 


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From Bloomberg:

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the fast food recovery act into law, giving restaurant-chain employees more input over wages and working conditions even after strong protests from the industry.

A study by Harvard Kennedy School and UC San Francisco showed that wages for California’s fast-food workers hover around $16.21 an hour, or 85 cents on the dollar compared with other service sector workers in the state. AB 257 could raise wages as high as $22 an hour next year for chains with 100 or more locations across the US. It’s the first US law of its kind, leading the way for other states.

Let’s see how this will play out at a restaurant. And where better than the oldest McDonald’s in America, in Downey, California?

In business since 1953, the Downey McDonald’s is one of the area’s biggest tourist attractions. And it still serves Big Macs and fries, 7 days a week.

The Downey McDonald’s is open from 6am to 10pm every day. That’s 112 hours a week.

McDonald’s employees in Downey actually do a little better than that $15 minimum wage. They average $16.41 per hour.

Increasing that to $22 means every employee-hour costs $5.59 more. Staffing the restaurant for those 112 hours now costs $128,000 per person per year, instead of $96,000.

Instead of paying that, restaurant owners may hire Flippy

Flippy is a robot from Miso Robotics that runs an entire fry station. It can make french fries, onion rings, and even chicken tenders.

It costs about $36,000 a year. And unlike humans, it never comes in late, gets sick, or tries to unionize.

Flippy can’t do all the jobs in a McDonald’s — yet. But in combination with order kiosks and automated drive through lanes, there may soon be few fast food jobs left. 

Is all this fair? I don’t know. 

But it’s going to happen. And blunt instruments like this law only bring our robot future closer. 

Instead, politicians like Gavin Newsom should focus on helping working class people get more skills. This is a durable path to better wages and a better life.

I hope for a future where humans do stimulating, meaningful work. Let Flippy handle the rest.

What do you think of the California law? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech: 

COFFEEBOTS AND THE SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT CUP

GROWING VEGGIES ON MARS

I PITCHED A ROBOT VC

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Coffeebots and the Search for the Perfect Cup

A robotic arm carefully grips the cup as frothy milk cascades onto smooth espresso. It gently places the cup before you.

Coffee is served.

I’m a little obsessed with coffee. I have five coffee makers at home, each for a different style.

But if the next generation of robotics companies has their way, they might all be replaced by a skillful droid.

Founded in 2015, Cafe X makes full-service robocafes that can be found at San Francisco International Airport and elsewhere. Today, they are only sold to commercial customers, but can the home version be far away?

Cafe X’s intelligent robots can make a drink in as little as 20 seconds. It can even make multiple drinks at once!

Best of all, the price is less than half what Starbucks charges.

CEO Henry Hu was inspired by the robotic arms that build automobiles.

A simpler coffee machine could make drinks, but the robotic arm is much more versatile. It can also serve snacks or even be used in restaurants.

The pandemic hit Cafe X hard, but it’s back in service in SFO, Dubai and elsewhere.

The machines cost about $200,000. A quick Indeed search shows most barista positions in the NYC area paying between $13 and $30 per hour.

If the average is even $20 per hour, and a human-staffed store is open perhaps 90 hours a week, it costs $93,600 to staff the store with even one barista for a year.

In an ever tighter labor market, once employers go bot, they may never go back.

Cafe X isn’t the only company bringing Star Wars to Starbucks. In Nashville, Panera Bread is rolling out coffee robots from Miso Robotics.

Unlike Cafe X, Miso’s robot is barely noticeable. It discreetly monitors temperature and time to ensure a perfect brew, but there’s no robotic arm to whisk the drink to you.

The system is designed to assist workers, not replace them.

Miso Robotics also makes Chippy, which fries tortilla chips at Chipotle, and Flippy, which flips burgers for White Castle.

In a white hot labor market, these robots may not cause unemployment. But my concerns about restaurant automation run deeper.

When I go to a cafe, I sometimes chat with the barista and have a little laugh. In a world of sensors and robotic arms, I’ll have no one to talk to.

Those little interactions aren’t the substance of our social life, but they can be enjoyable sprinkles on the top.

Cafe X’s robot amazes me and manages to be cute to boot. But I find a world without anyone to share a brief chuckle with a melancholy one.


Would you try a robocoffee? And what do you think about the future of restaurant automation?

Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

Robot Pizzas and the Future of Fast Food

What if Everyone on Earth Had Super Fast Internet for $1?

Robot Hands, Vertical Farms, and the Future of Food

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My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

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