January 29, 2014


The Employee of the Month Has a Battery (MICHAEL SALTSMAN, Jan. 29, 2014, WSJ)

Asked if he supported a higher minimum wage, Mr. Gates urged caution and said the policy would create an incentive for employers to "buy machines and automate things.

Mr. Gates is right, but the transition toward self-service began long before tabletop computers were a viable option. Self-service soda machines, available at fast-food restaurants since at least the late 1970s, were a labor-saving device. Even coffee carafes left on the table for customers to serve themselves allowed restaurants to reduce the staff needed to fill cups. More recently, major restaurant chains such as Bob Evans and Chili's have updated their service model to eliminate bus boys, relying on servers to clear tables themselves.

Technology has enabled much bigger overhauls. Consider the modern department store: At some Target and Macy's locations, customers can check their own prices, as well as check themselves out at self-service kiosks after shopping. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2012 that the number of these establishments has grown by 23% over the last 10 years, while total employment at the firms has fallen by 6%.

Tablet-based ordering is coming into vogue at U.S. restaurants: Chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association recently ranked computerized menus as the top tech trend for 2014. Airports in locations like New York City and Minneapolis now feature "restaurants" that are waitstaff-free. In 2011, McDonald's announced it was replacing human cashiers with touch-screen alternatives at more than 7,000 European locations.

Customers may find the new technology convenient, but the thousands of young adults who used to earn money filling these roles won't. 

Posted by at January 29, 2014 8:29 PM

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