Jordan Candler / March 6, 2018

Burger-Flipping Robot Enters Minimum-Wage Foray

Memo to the Left: Companies will either innovate or be forced to purge workers or close business. There’s no in-between.

This year, minimum-wage hikes occurred in 18 states, affecting 4.5 million workers. Half of the hikes were automatic and spurred by inflation, but the others were voter- or lawmaker-approved. As we note regularly, however, these forced increases in the minimum wage hurt many of the workers they’re intended to help because they further obligate employers to cut costs. And to do that, they often look to innovation.

When the cost of worker payrolls becomes too high, companies seek substitutions. One substitute that’s already on the books — the kiosk — is on its way to becoming universal in fast-food chains. Both McDonald’s and Wendy’s, for example, are investing in kiosks because they will pay off in the long run. Human cashiers could become a thing of the past as a result.

Another substitute that’s just hit the market is mechanically driven and is being dubbed “Flippy.” As its name implies, “Flippy” — recently deployed by Caliburger in Pasadena, California — is engineered to flip burgers. According to NPR, “In its current version, Flippy needs a human coworker to place the patties on the grill, put the cheese on top at the right moment and add the extras, such as lettuce and sauce before wrapping the sandwiches for customers.” But it’s only a matter of time before the robot’s functionality expands.

Investor’s Business Daily editorializes, “In less than three months, Pasadena’s minimum wage will climb to $12 an hour for those with 25 or fewer employees, and $13.25 for those with 26 or more. Those are higher than California’s current state minimum wage, which is also climbing and will hit $15 by 2022. In some respects, automation like Flippy is an inevitability, as computers and robotics get increasingly sophisticated. Replacing workers with robots has been going on for decades. But raising the minimum wage will accelerate this trend by making even costly robots a better deal than increasingly expensive, minimally skilled workers.”

For smaller companies that lack capital, an investment in a robot that costs tens of thousands of dollars like “Flippy” does isn’t realistic. But neither are ridiculous minimum-wage hikes that risk either slashing staff or even shuttering business completely. As IBD notes, “Any way you slice it, this means fewer jobs for those who need them most, jobs that let them gain workplace skills and habits that will help them move up the income ladder.”

Companies will either innovate to skirt the detrimental effects of minimum-wage hikes or be forced to purge workers or close business. There’s no in-between. Something for minimum-wage advocates who pretend otherwise to chew on. Would they like fries with that?

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