Automation for All? A Historical Analysis of the Automation of the Food Service Industry

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Lucy Arias


Entering the McDonalds, a consumer sees the usual one or two cashiers taking people’s orders. There are large screens displaying the menu, and an array of cooking machines behind them in an open kitchen. Standing between the long line of customers and the impatient buyer, are one or two tall, white screens. These are self-service kiosks. They entice the newly entered client to take a closer look by displaying a picture of a big mac and fries, with large white letters in the middle of its shiny screen that read, “ORDER HERE”. Another shopper has opted to order and pay at the drive-thru, in order to quickly grab their food and head to their destination. Arriving at the large menu screens, the buyer lowers their window to wait for the McDonalds employee to greet them. Instead, an automated, robotic sounding voice asks them what they would like to order. The patron hesitantly goes through their order, with the AI drive-thru voice repeating it back to them and asking if the order is correct. The consumer corrects the machine, telling it that they ordered 6 chicken nuggets, not 60. The machine asks the client to hold for a moment. A human voice sounds through the speakers, asking the buyer what they would like to change. Stepping away from the expected quick pace of the fast-food industry, it makes sense that local restaurants or food establishments would also change their norms and service to keep up. Now, even before arriving to most restaurants, one can make a reservation online, browse the menu, and even order for pick-up or delivery, cutting the need to even step foot in the establishment to order.

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