Their names are Flippy, Sippy, and Chippy. And they seem to do their work tirelessly. The don’t grumble about their working conditions or their pay. They don’t ask for time off for the littlest things. And they cooperatively do the work that many teenagers today seem to reject.
In fairness, they didn’t come cheap. Their employer paid $5,000 to get them on board and ponies up $3,500 per month to keep them engaged. Yes, a seemingly hefty amount. However, Flippy, Sippy, and Chippy are available to work around the clock!
Perhaps you have figured out that these three “employees” are robots. They’re on an experimental program in restaurants like White Castle and Jack in the Box. Flippy’s first assignment at "the Box" was cooking up the French fries. This required the robot to drop baskets of fries and stuffed jalapeños into vats of oil, removing them when they were perfectly golden.
According to the Washington Post, the use of restaurant robots isn’t exactly new. As early as 1983, the Two Panda Deli in Pasadena, California, used robots to bring food from the kitchen to customers. Recently, Chili’s restaurants have been experimenting with robots they named “Rita” (use your imagination as to why). Rita will bring food and drinks to your table and even “walk” you to your assigned place when you first arrive.
The very practical use of robots may have as much to do with workers' safety. Hot grills and French fryers certainly can be harmful. Those who struggle with attention deficit could pay an awful price.
But let’s face it. Low paying restaurants are losing workers by the boatload. What for years has been a starter job for teens or a second income of part time work has more and more become a job that earns ridicule. Fast food places have tried to adjust by increasing pay and benefits. But drive around any town these days and you’ll still find a full array of help wanted signs.
If you haven’t noticed, there is no such thing as a free lunch when employees require increased wages. My wife and I went to Wendy’s after church a week ago. We’ve always enjoyed their chili. We can recall the days when a good-sized small container was 99 cents. (Maybe less—way back when.) Prices went up gradually. Until recently. It cost me $3.19 on that Sunday! That ended my love affair with Wendy’s chili.
Once a week I enjoy a visit to a Culver’s restaurant. So I was quite surprised recently to discover my six-piece shrimp basket meal was now over $12 – up some $2 from earlier this year. I’m now back to a kid’s meal!
If I were a franchise owner, the robot trend might make a lot of sense to me. But I’m also concerned that low-skilled employees demanding higher wages is going to have a negative impact beyond higher food prices. It may well mean the loss of starter jobs for teens living at home or that other part time income that many need. You can price yourself out of the market—even in low paying jobs.
It's too early to tell what the long-term effects will be on the fast-food industry with rising prices. But it’s not too early to tell that employers are always looking for ways to cut costs – and even employees – if they can find more affordable workers like Flippy, Sippy, and Chippy.
The Bible does not address the issue of using robots in the workplace. It does, however, remind employers to do right by employees. James 5:4 reads, “You refused to pay the people who worked in your fields, and now their unpaid wages are shouting out against you. The Lord All-Powerful has surely heard the cries of the workers who harvested your crops.” (CEV)
That is a call to be fair in dealings with employees in everything.
I hope this problem gets sorted out soon. My dining out budget will be shrinking in the days ahead.
In the meantime, domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.
That’s Forward Thinking.
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