(Hollis Johnson/Business Insider)
McDonald's is rolling out self-service kiosks in restaurants across the US that allow customers to order and pay for their food without ever having to interact with a human.
The touch-screen technology is meant to speed up the ordering process and give people more control over customizing their food, while reducing opportunities for human error, according to the company.
Some people suspect that the technology is also meant to eventually replace staff as McDonald's franchisees start to worry about rising labor costs.
Bennigan's CEO Paul Mangiamele said in a recent interview that McDonald's kiosks — as well as self-service technologies at other chains like Panera and TGI Fridays — are a direct response to rising labor costs and calls for a higher minimum wage.
"Many, many concepts ... are going to kiosks because we have to address, somehow, the rising costs of operating in our businesses," Mangiamele told Fox Business.
The fast-food chain denies that. McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa McComb says cashiers will still be taking orders.
"Similar to ordering from an app, the technology (any technology such as self-order kiosk, mobile phone, web ordering), offers additional service options, giving customers the ability to control the way they wish to experience and engage with McDonald’s," McComb told Business Insider.
McDonald's franchisees have complained about the rising costs of labor.
"At least half of the operators in my region are on the verge of collapse," one franchisee wrote in response to a recent survey by former Janney Capital Markets analyst Mark Kalinowski. "With minimum wage for fast food workers potentially increasing to incredibly high levels, we are facing a crisis situation."
Another franchisee wrote, "We are in uncharted waters. The minimum wage issue is a major threat to the survival of the operator community." The franchisee said McDonald's should be "putting every resource available" into finding labor savings, through technologies such as kiosks and automatic fry dispensers.
The price increases needed to offset any added labor costs "would cause a complete collapse in guest counts," the franchisee added. "I see no other options but the company paying to keep operators alive until they figure out how to reduce labor required by 30%."
But according to McComb, McDonald's is not planning to pare down its work force as it adds the new kiosks to restaurants.
The kiosks could, however, allow operators to move some workers away from cash registers and into the kitchen to help speed up customer service.
That could provide a major boost to franchisees who say they are understaffed and unable to handle busy meal traffic.
"Our competitors have six to eight people to run close to the same volume that we need 20 to 25 people for," one franchisee wrote in response to Kalinowski's survey.
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