Hamburgers…with a Side of Technology
Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” This is true in business as in life. And if your business serves customers in a retail location every day, keeping your balance means listening – and acting – to bring your customers what they want, sometimes even before they ask for it.
To bring customers what they want, self-service ordering technology appears to be the next frontier for Wendy’s and the restaurant industry, although we’re hardly the first to this party. (Click here to read an article the Columbus Dispatch published.)
Bank ATMs, airport check-in kiosks, and online pizza delivery have already paved the way for us. Using an ATM to deposit money for the first time was nerve-wracking because it was so new, but in the blink of an eye, it’s become so commonplace that some consumer banks no longer have branches. And can you remember the last time you used an actual telephone to order a pizza? Consumers, particularly younger consumers, welcome self-service options and businesses in virtually every industry are moving as fast as they can to provide them.
Recently, our foray into self-service kiosks hit the news when our company president mentioned them on a quarterly conference call with investors. We’ve been talking about consumer technology like kiosks, mobile ordering, and other digital offerings for quite some time, but that week we hit a nerve.
Early reports claimed we would have this technology in all of our restaurants this year; however, these reports were exaggerated. (Click here to read one of the early reports.)
Today, we have only a handful of self-ordering kiosks in test, and by the end of the year, we’ll be in a position to start to make the technology available to franchisees who are interested.
It would certainly take some time to deploy a new technology to more than 6,000 restaurants, and it remains to be seen whether we’ll ever see it nationwide. But the news also generated a lot of conversation.
Are we trying to replace people with machines? Will a robot make my salad? Are we reacting to increased minimum wage mandates? The short answer to these questions is no, or at least, not exactly.
Actually, the answer to the salad-making robot question is a no for sure. The others are harder to answer. Because the truth is this: technology in restaurants, just like technology in banks, airports, and toll booths will likely automate some tasks that today are done by people. And where labor rates rise dramatically, technology may be adopted more quickly.
But people will always remain central to the Wendy’s experience.
Restaurant jobs like the ones offered by Wendy’s franchisees and operators have long played an important role in our economy. At the crew level, jobs have historically been plentiful, flexible, part-time, easy to learn and transferable from one operation to the next. And management positions exist across a spectrum of responsibilities such as operations, finance, human resources and maintenance. We’re very proud of the role that Wendy’s plays in the service economy.
Nationally, restaurant jobs account for one in 10 total jobs, and a large majority of restaurant management and franchise ownership roles are occupied by people who got their start as crew members.
No amount of technology can or will replace the critical role that people play in the customer service business, and as Einstein tells us, we must keep moving to stay balanced with consumer needs and wants.
Dave Thomas understood this basic truth when he started Wendy’s in 1969. He didn’t follow conventional fast food practices – he developed a restaurant concept that used fresh ingredients, cooked food to order, and brought quality together with speed.
We’re still carrying on Dave’s legacy today at Wendy’s. Keeping our balance with customers means moving and changing to stay ahead of the curve, while never forgetting that people have always been and will always be the heart of our business.