Over the last twenty years, the American public has gotten less and less for its money. This is not just in terms of products, but also in services. We’re asked to pump our own gas and bag our own groceries. This lack of service is no better evident than the direction fast food has taken in recent years.
Part of the problem is the people who work in fast food. I worked in fast food myself, but I was young and – frankly – I didn’t find it much of a challenge. However, I worked with a lot of people who were overwhelmed by the job. I worked with a girl who once tried to save time by putting the lids on the drinks before placing them under the spigots. To address this potential problem, our McDonald’s has replaced the drive thru person making drinks with a robot that manages the cups, fills them with ice and slides them under the correct flavor dispenser.
A new challenge has been workers who don’t speak English. For some reason, Taco Bell tends to put these people in the drive thru. The speaker in the drive thru lane isn’t exactly hi-fi to begin with. So, combining that with someone who doesn’t understand the language is just a recipe for failure. However, the powers that be at Taco Bell have recently replaced the foreign worker with a tape recorded greeting. In perfect English, a friendly voice now welcomes you to Taco Bell and asks you if you would like to try their latest Mexican-ish concoction.
I believe this trend of automation will continue as people with less and less skills show up for work at the nation’s fast food restaurants. Where is this leading? I figure in ten years – maybe less – restaurants will be totally automated. The technology is already in place. We have recorded greetings, robots that pour our drinks, why not automated spatulas or computer controlled French fry dispensers? This will be the dawning of the Age of the Automat.
The loss will be to the nation’s lowest echelons: the immigrant workers and the kids working their way through school. Those who do the job, like I did, find that it gave us the drive to succeed in life. In my case, I hated the job so much that I made sure I did well enough in college so that I would never have to work fast food again! I don’t know how the next generation will attain that drive… though as National Lampoon once reported in Deteriorata, “There is always a bright future in computer maintenance.”