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Fast Food

Carl’s Jr CEO toys with idea of more automated restaurants

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Carl's Jr may no longer be staffed by humans in the not-too-distant future. (AP)

Looks like the little guy can teach a global fast food conglomerate a thing or two about running a restaurant

Eatsa, the mostly automated healthy, fast food bowl shop based in San Francisco, has inspired the CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s to rethink the traditional workforce with the idea of adding more automation to its restaurants.

"I want to try it," CEO Andy Puzder told Business Insider. "We could have a restaurant that's focused on all-natural products and is much like an Eatsa, where you order on a kiosk, you pay with a credit or debit card, your order pops up, and you never see a person."

While the CEO didn't say he'd replace all workers with robots, an employee-free dining room and ordering system could help the fast food giant cope with rising minimum wages across the country.  Even at Eatsa, live workers are needed behind the scenes to assemble bowls. 

"With government driving up the cost of labor, it's driving down the number of jobs," he says, predicting the automation trend will likely extend beyond the restaurant industry.  "You're going to see automation not just in airports and grocery stores, but in restaurants."

The outspoken critic of raising the minimum wage has said it could lead to reduced employment opportunities across the board and stagnated growth for his industry.

If the minimum wage is raised, argues Puzder, more companies like CKE foods which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr will look to automate faster— which could further decimate jobs.  

"If you're making labor more expensive, and automation less expensive — this is not rocket science," says Puzder.

The CEO acknowledges that it may be some time before Carl’s Jr's dining room is people-free, and the chain would have to start small and test a more automated food system first before a larger roll-out. 

But Puzder says he sees automation fulfilling “rote tasks like grilling a burger or taking an order”—areas in which a robot would probably be more precise than a human.

And while older customers may take some time to adapt to interacting with a faceless platform, Puzder says the coveted millennial market actually prefers as little social interaction as possible when it comes to ordering food.

"Millennials like not seeing people," said the CEO. "I've been inside restaurants where we've installed ordering kiosks ... and I've actually seen young people waiting in line to use the kiosk where there's a person standing behind the counter, waiting on nobody."