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Fast Food Restaurants Are Replacing Workers With Robots To Combat Staff Shortage

Children are encouraged to think about what they would like to do with their lives from an early age. I wanted to be the female version of James Herriot (a novel-writing vet), but I got a stark reality check in high school when I discovered that I wasn't scientifically minded enough to have a chance *sob*. I managed to succeed at the writer thing, though.

That being said, it's not been an easy journey, and I've had my fair share of jobs - from caring for the elderly to teaching high school English. I even worked in retail for a brief spell in college, and while serving the public on a day-to-day basis does have the perk of allowing you to meet a lot of people, it can be a real headache in a fast-paced environment.

So it's no wonder then that fewer and fewer people are choosing to work in fast food restaurants.

In the modern world, people are more impatient than ever before, and if there are burgers involved, they want their food tasty and they want it NOW. This can put workers under a lot of pressure, and it's not like they are rewarded with particularly high wages for their time.

After all, fast food is notoriously cheap, and as many costs as possible have to be cut to make 99 cent burgers a reality - even if it's it's no secret that they're not exactly nutritious fare in the first place. That's why an increasing number of fast food chains have opted to replace their workers with robots instead of improving wages and working conditions for actual humans.

But this idea is not without its flaws. Check out the video below to learn more: 

The US is the fast food mecca of the world - you name it, we've got a restaurant dedicated to it. God bless whoever came up with iHop, that's all I'm saying. So, naturally, we've been the first country to adopt the widespread use of robots in our fast food restaurants, which is why Flippy the burger-flipping robot landed a job in a California restaurant earlier this year.

The robotic revolution has also begun to affect some major chains, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Wendy's began to install self-cleaning ovens in a selected number of stores earlier in 2018.

Arby's also has smart ovens which, in a nutshell, cook roast beef then switch to a "holding" mode. This means that employees can cook food for the next day and have it ready to serve in the in the morning.

Scotty Murphy, COO for Dunkin' Donuts, said to the Wall Street Journal of the shortage of fast food workers, "I've never seen the labor market this tight. We spend a lot of time training people and a month later they walk out the door."

In April of this year, the US hospitality industry had a record 844,000 unfilled positions. To put the scale of the problem into context, this means that one in eight of jobs available is in the industry.

Dunkin' Donuts has also introduced some automated processes into their operation to solve this problem. These include expiration dates for food and automatically testing the quality of the coffee they are producing.

"I don't have to be constantly worried about other smaller tasks that were tedious," said Alexandra Guajardo, a morning shift leader at a Dunkin' Donuts store in California. "I can focus on other things that need my attention in the restaurant."

A 2013 study by the University of Oxford found that jobs in the food service industry were among the 20% most automatable out of 700 surveyed occupations. What's more is that the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development said it had the highest chance of automation out of 88 industries.

"In this market, employees will leave if they have one bad day," Patrick Sugrue, chief exec of Saladworks, told the Wall Street Journal. "If that happens, having this technology in place makes it easier to deal with."

"Having wait times go up due to short staffing is a quick way to kill a brand."

While replacing humans with robots might seem like a good idea in theory, their introduction in a small number of stores has not been without incident, and Flippy (better described as a giant mechanical arm, which could reportedly handle 2,000 burgers a day) was out of action earlier in the year after being overwhelmed by customer demand.