When I have been in fast food outlets, I see that most employ 6 to 10 staff. Depends on the type of operation and the time of day.

Due to California’s new $22/hour mandated wage (in 2023) for fast food workers, watch for significant increases in automation to replace workers. Instead of 6-10 workers per outlet, I suspect in a year or two there will be 4-6 workers per outlet.

The costs of automation are falling while capabilities increase. Fast food outlets, for a long time, were run on the labor of teens entering the workforce. But with that supply drying up, government mandated pay and work conditions, automation is poised to dominate many of those job functions.

See this for a brief list of some of the fast-food automation steps already underway. Existing and new automation includes:

  • App-based ordering.
  • Kiosk based ordering and at-table tablet-based ordering
  • Automated drive through ordering using voice recognition
  • DIY soda machines replaced sodas filled by staff
  • Fully automated food services are now running in limited locations.
  • Soon, automated cooking systems will replace burger flipping and French frying.

Gradually, the number of workers needed to run a fast-food operation will decrease.

Remember when an attendant filled your car’s gas tank? (If you live in Oregon, the government mandates you do this and pay for it). This was replaced by DIY fill-your-own-tank with a single station attendant. In some areas, especially rural areas, there is not even a station attendant. You drive up and use your “card lock” to operate the pumps. No labor at all.

Chart shows decline in the youth population relative to prior generations. See Age 17 and below. Over the next two years, the supply of teen workers for restaurants dries up. Automation here we come.