As Workers Fight For $15 Minimum Wage, Panera Turns to Automation


Protests and debate about raising the minimum wage across the nation have been making news in recent months. Workers have staged protests and the debate over whether or not the minimum wage should be raised has been making headlines.


Some argue that this will help the nation’s economy, while others say it will put small to mid sized companies out of business.


As the debate has heated up, I’ve noticed other news articles discussing automation in some industries, such as quick serve restaurants. In the past, we saw the advent of self-serve checkout lanes growing across retailers. Now, we are starting to see this automation in the quick serve industry.


Panera Bread is the latest company to turn to mobile and technology to improve its processes, and they claim it will ultimately improve their customer experience.


In May, the company shared that they will be reducing the number of cashiers at their locations and will replace them with kiosks in an effort to reduce long wait times, which has been one sticking point of their customer experience. This will allow Panera to readjust their staffing, which right now is increased to address the longer wait times while they are adapting to the new kiosk system, which will be fully rolled out by 2016.


So, does this mean that Panera will reduce staff, resulting in less job opportunities? It remains unclear, but Panera’s CEO, Ron Shaich, indicates that staff who previously worked as cashiers will now be delivering orders and that no jobs will be lost.


While this may not be the case for Panera, but we will have to wait to see if his theory holds true, there are some businesses that may mirror Panera’s newest model in an attempt to downsize as far as staffing is concerned.


Will this mean that there are less jobs overall as automation takes over? While some may believe this to be our future, I’m inclined to think that it will not. After all, self-serve checkout lanes have been around for quite some time, and even after all of these years the number of self-serves vs. staffed registers remains largely disproportionate.


If Panera can reach their goal of improving wait time, enhancing the customer experience, and not show a decrease in staffing, it will be a win-win situation for all. Maybe by then employees will see a higher minimum wage as well, which could be the trifecta for Panera employees.



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