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Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Fast Food... Even Faster...

...yes, yes, I know you're probably tired of hearing me go one about fast food joints, but sometimes there are some things that bear repeating. Especially when I'm someone who does eat at those places from time to time. But I try and make it hard on myself. I won't get a large meal, or I'll walk to one that's a ways away.

That's not always the case, and I *will* let a long line deter me from eating there. I'll even let the nasty attitude of someone behind the counter motivate me to turn around and leave without placing an order. But soon I won't even have that.

Apparently a few of the fast food conglomerations are field testing kiosks that would allow you to order your food without ever talking to a person. Touch a screen, use an ATM or credit card, and your order is in the kitchen being prepared. Take your receipt and trade it for your food. Talk about cutting costs - they could have kiosks and people cooking food and never have to pay the counter help or worry about being shorthanded for certain shifts. Just let the machine handle it all.

It's a little scary. After all, telling someone you want 5 large orders of french fries is a lot different than punching the little fry button 5 times. It's *way* easier to do than telling someone, even over a drive-through intercom.

Oh, I know, counter people won't go totally away because there are people who will refuse to deal with the kiosks. But as that generation dies, and the children of now grow up being used to the new technology it will be all they know, and they'll be fine with it. You'll just need one person to trade the receipt for the food, and you're good to go. Even that part could be automated if your receipt has a barcode, and there's a push conveyor system in place - scan the barcode, and it will release your order.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it would be a lot easier to deal with a touch screen myself to plug in an order for something and see a running total while I customize a burger and upsize my fries (and probably downsize them right away again). On the other hand, we're automating everything around us and it's just leading us down the path of increasing unemployment. Except for those who know how to fix the kiosks after someone kicks the crap out of one because they couldn't get the order right.

I do see one upside to it all - I'd like to see those touch screens not only have a running total of the money that you're spending, but a running total on the calories, fat, and cholesterol that you're going to consume as you continue to add items to your meal. I'd sure be happy to see that, and I might change my order based on information like that being provided. The fast food place might make more money off of me because I won't choose a cheap burger but instead a more expensive salad. And we all know they're into how to get the most money from a single customer exchange. It's a guiding principal of fast food - it's why they ask "Would you like fries with that?"...

... and yes, the machines will do that too.

For more information on this subject please feel free to read the following articles:
San Diego Business Journal: Jack in the Box Orders up Experimental Fast Food Kiosks
WFAA: Self-Service Coming to Fast Food
Both article links originally courtesy of Gizmodo's article on silicon life forms taking over fast food