McDonald's Self-Service Kiosks Won't Cause Layoffs, Fast-Food Company Claims

Robert Jonathan

The McDonald's fast-food chain has plans to install self-service ordering kiosks at 2,500 U.S. restaurants this year but insists that automation won't replace human workers.

News about the kiosk technology rollout, which the company includes in its "experience of the future" initiative, sent McDonald's stock to an all-time high this past week in anticipation of increased sales and profits. According to one financial analyst, digital kiosks could find their way to additional 3,000 McDonald's eateries next year, USA Today reported.

McDonald's also plans to launch mobile ordering at 14,000 stores this year.

Both Wendy's and Panera Bread are or will be implementing touchscreen kiosks at its outlets across the country. Panera has already enabled mobile ordering to streamline transactions as well as home/office delivery.

A McDonald's spokeswoman told CNBC that the corporate hierarchy isn't contemplating any mass layoffs as a result of automation, however.

"Our CEO, Steve Easterbrook, has said on many occasions that self-order kiosks in McDonald's restaurants are not a labor replacement. They provide an opportunity to transition back-of-the-house positions to more customer service roles such as concierges and table service where they are able to truly engage with guests and enhance the dining experience."
"The touch-screen technology is meant to speed up the ordering process and give people more control over customizing their food, while reducing opportunities for human error. Analysts expect the kiosks will help boost McDonald's sales, in part because they will help increase efficiency in restaurants."

According to some business pundits, the transition to self-service ordering is a response to minimum wage activism, including the Fight for $15 movement.

Former McDonald's USA CEO Ed Renzi is on record warning that the $15 minimum wage would be self-defeating in that it would erase thousands of entry-level fast-food jobs when small-business employers implement self-service kiosks to reduce headcount and payroll.

Although the federal minimum hourly wage is still $7.25, several states and municipalities have already "supersized" it to $15 in their jurisdictions, which equals to about $31,000 for a full-time worker, although many don't work full time.

Fair or unfair, in the normal course of things, assuming normal applies in the contemporary economy, minimum wage employees — which generally applies to a younger cohort — pick up work experience, new skills, and get promoted to higher-paying positions or land at another company that offers better opportunities.

Would you be more inclined to eat at McDonald's or another fast-food chain if you could order your food via a kiosk?

[Featured Image by David Duprey/AP Images]