Why Fast-Food Workers Are An Endangered Species

By James Murray, an American living permanently in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. After having owned a business for 27 years, he now spends his free time musing on the world.

In 1978, I owned a small company and bought my first personal computer, or more accurately, a PC kit. The kit had a printed circuit board and a lot of parts. You had to mount the parts, solder them into place, and do your own testing. I think I paid just over $1000 for it.

The manufacturer had promised to provide a dual floppy disk storage unit “in a few months.” That turned into over a year. In the meantime, we used audio tape recorders as storage. We had a small company and just updating inventory for the day could take an hour. Eventually, the manufacturer did supply a dual 8″ floppy disk drive ($1500) and updating inventory dropped to just 15 minutes.

As time went on, we upgraded our computer systems every few years. Each computer was “stand alone” in that it would only run one program at a time and there was no file sharing. If you wanted to check inventory, you had to locate the inventory computer, same for bookkeeping and letter writing. About 1985, I found some software that allowed one computer to have 3 workstations and file share. Now, you could run any program on any workstation but only one program at a time.

I sold the company in 1999 and promptly bought a home computer. It used the phone line (AOL dialup account), and I had to buy a cell phone because my landline was always tied up. I paid $1600 for that computer. It was pretty much a “bare bones” machine.

In 2004, that computer died. I scrounged all the good parts I could and went to Best Buy and bought another “bare bones” computer. It had Windows XP and an 80GB hard drive. That was the first year that I could also access DSL. Between all the upgrades, I was in heaven. The computer was basically state of the art and fast. It was a 32 bit machine and had a single-core processor.

That computer lasted a decade (with a few hard drive replacements). Eventually, getting parts was becoming a pain, so a new computer was in order. I decided to see what I could get for $1000. You can get a LOT for $1000 today.

I decided to build a system and started ordering parts. After ordering everything, I had enough left over for a big monitor, mouse and keyboard. Putting the system together was a snap … snap things into place, connect the cables, and fire it up. This system has enough power and speed to run a large manufacturing operation or a small group of retail stores. The difference in just the last decade is amazing, and the prices are still dropping.

Fast food workers have been in the news recently, wanting $15 an hour minimum wage. Also in the news was an article on an automated machine that can make 360 perfect hamburgers an hour and put them on a bun with any toppings you desire.  

30 years ago, just getting a computer system to run reliably was a full time job, not to mention the cost. Just the memory to run a complex program would break the bank. Today, that is not a problem. Applebee’s is already running trials where you order off a tablet and later your order shows up. The waitress is missing.

The fast food workers may get $15 an hour, but it will be short lived. I think within a few years, you will place your order on a tablet, and a machine will cook and deliver it just as ordered. It will probably also ask “Do you want fries with that?”

The first operation to do that will have a few problems, but they will work them out, and then all fast food will go that way. It won’t be long before “burger flipper” is a machine, not a teenager. The equipment is already available at a decent cost. The only thing left is getting the customers to accept the changes.

ATMs were around at least a decade before I ever used one. If I had a deposit or wanted cash, I went to a bank and stood in line. I haven’t been in a bank in 6 years. I deposit checks by scanning them and e-mailing them to the bank. I pay by “bill pay,” and cash comes from an ATM. Thirty years ago, if you had told me that I might go to a fast food joint, place an order on a tablet, and eat a machine-made burger, I would have said, “No way”. Today, I probably wouldn’t think too much about it. By James Murray.

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