Here’s How Fast-Food Is About to Get Technologically Stupid

What could go wrong with making A.I. responsible for setting the temperatures of kitchen ovens?
Here’s How Fast-Food Is About to Get Technologically Stupid

You might have heard recently that Wendy’s planned to experiment with “surge pricing” in the near future, hiking up prices when demand is highest as if a burger is a finite resource in a fast-food kitchen. They’ve since claimed they only intend to do the opposite — that is, discounting items at off-peak chili hours — which ignores the facts that 1) that’s basically the same thing; and 2) tons of smaller restaurants have already implemented surge pricing. Modern society doesn’t exactly favor mom-and-pop, so it’s only a matter of time before we let the big boys in on it, too.

This isn’t even the sneakiest impending use of those digital menu screens either. Fast-food companies are increasingly relying on A.I., not just to set prices and, for example, push iced coffee on you in the summertime, but also behind the scenes to set employee schedules, order ingredients and even answer questions for employees like how to use kitchen equipment. Considering how bad A.I. is at answering basic riddles, this seems like it could go badly, and it’s no coincidence that this technology is being adopted at a time when fast-food workers are increasingly demanding to be treated and paid like humans.

In fact, several fast-food companies are experimenting with entirely new architecture designed to cut pesky humans out of the process. One such system currently used by Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A are “elevated kitchens” hovering above drive-thru lanes that take orders from screens and then drop them below through a tube in the stupidest imitation of Futurama technology.

Others that aren’t going quite so far are simply relying increasingly on digital pickup ordering, kiosks (that customers are sometimes forced to use even when employees are available) and drive-thrus in an effort to do away with silly, wasteful dining rooms. Some restaurants are going completely drive-thru-only, so if you’d rather reduce your carbon footprint by walking to your Whopper, you can go fuck yourself.

Again, it’s entirely coincidental that digital ordering enables a variety of strategies to encourage customers to spend more, but these companies don’t seem to have considered that it can also limit customers’ ability to spend anything. Sure, everything is digital these days, so anything can get bricked at any time by going offline, but a recent outage in McDonald’s systems resulted in a worldwide Big Mac famine, with some restaurants inoperable just because their kiosks were down. 

That’s one advantage of cash: It may be filthy and caked with cocaine, but it never needs to be turned off and turned back on.

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