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How ‘Fight for 15’ will lead to ‘Smart Dining’ and less jobs

With President Obama’s blessing, unions have focused their ‘Fight for 15’ minimum wage movement on food service workers in large corporations.  Across the country, support has been growing.

Ironically, those big corporations are the most prepared to compensate for increased labor costs with “Smart Dining” — replacing workers with machines.

Restaurant chains are incorporating Smart Dining that will hedge against rising labor costs.  Chilis, Applebees, and Buffalo Wild Wings have already begun using table tablets for many waiter tasks, as demostrated here:

YouTube Preview Image

 

Smart Dining not only replaces waiters, but also kitchen staff.  The New York Times reports that Chili’s 1,200 restaurants have added computerized ovens that use conveyor belts and infrared technology–at $100,000 per oven.

Early forms of Smart Dining were advertised in 1964, before it was a cost effective solution for increased labor costs:

 

“Smart Dining” too expensive for small restaurants

Many small, local restaurants can’t afford this Smart Dining technology.

Small restaurants are currently hit by increased food costs, including beef, shrimp, dairy, pork, poultry, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, chocolate, and coffee.  High propane, electricity, gasoline, and diesel costs are also affecting restaurants that were already suffering from a bad-to-worse economy.

Small restaurants have been an integral part of American life.  They have also been a road out of poverty for hard working immigrants and disadvantaged families for generations.

The Rosen family in Brooklyn, New York is one such family.  Like many Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century, they saved their meager wages to buy a small push cart to sell street food.  One push cart grew into several carts, then into a restaurant, owned and operated to this day by generations of Rosens.

In Welcome to Junior’s, Marvin Rosen joined with his brother Walter to reminisce about their late father Harry Rosen.  At sixteen, Harry had started with the first push cart that grew into a successful restaurant:

My father was a tough, no-nonsense boss, but waiters and waitresses liked working for him because everything ran smoothly with him in charge.  He never asked more of them than he gave of himself.  A waiter worked six days a week.  My father worked seven.  He was up at five every day, impeccably dressed and ready to leave for work at five-thirty…If we weren’t ready to leave home with him at five-thirty, we had to take the subway.

At Junior’s, we did everything, helped out everywhere.  My father met with his assistant at six and did all the ordering and purchasing for the day.  Then he’d make up the menu for the day.  When it came to running a restaurant, there was no one better than my father.  He let nothing go to waste, ever!  Yesterday’s leftovers were today’s soups and casseroles.

The Rosen brothers described their grandmother Sarah Rosen, who had raised six children in poverty:

She was illiterate but energetic, resourceful, wise, skillful, and always active with good deeds.  To help bring in income, she ran a small newsstand.  She was probably the single source that inspired her sons to success.  She fiercely protected the time they spent in school, insisting that they learn to read and write.  At age fifty-one, while struggling to gather for her family bits of ice that had fallen from an ice wagon, she was pinned under the heavy wheel.  The injury was so bad her right arm was amputated.  Still she continued to work.

Defying Elizabeth Warren’s and Barack Obama‘s “you didn’t build that” philosophy, today’s ambitious, hardworking immigrant families start their own restaurants at much higher percentages than non-immigrants.  Many had no outside help.  The Fiscal Policy Institute reported that in 2012, 37% of restaurant owners were born outside the U.S.

The Fiscal Policy Institute also reported that although immigrants are more likely to be business owners, their businesses tended to be smaller.  The majority of immigrant business owners have paid employees, averaging 11 paid employees per business.

These small restauranteurs would be unlikely to afford the Smart Dining technology to compensate for increased labor costs.

Small, local restaurants fill an important social need

For generations, small restaurants have filled a critical role in their communities.  Many become gathering places following natural disasters and crises, serving free food to emergency crews and victims.  They are a natural location for helping people during times of need.

Long-time Texas truck stop owners Don and Ann Kraun remembered when they were second parents to local kids at their diner.  They were open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  In The Route 66 Cookbook, Don remembers:

We had all kinds of highway customers, too.  When they would come in and forget their kids, we’d get in the car and run them down.  We sent one lady off to have a baby once and had to keep her boy for a while.  We took him home and Ann washed his clothes and fed him good before his dad finally came back to pick him up.

Small restaurants staffed by people, not machines, provide a critical service to elderly and widowed neighbors.  They are an “easy entry” type of socialization for lonely people, as opposed to formal organizations and private gatherings.

A study by University of California found that loneliness is linked to serious health problems and death among the elderly.  Ohio’s Comfort Keepers reports that loneliness in the elderly raises the potential for depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Eighty-five year old widow Barbara Dane explained, “When your spouse dies, there’s a missing space in your heart.  You still want to know that someone cares about you.  Connection to other people becomes even more important at this point in your life…A lot of people around me are aging, and some are not doing so well.  Some who never developed social skills are having the hardest time and those are the ones we need to watch out for.”

Try telling that to a table tablet.

Featured image photo by Steve Genson

Melissa Genson

Melissa Genson, a resident of Washington State, is the regional editor for Watchdog Wire - Northwest. Contact her at Northwest@WatchdogWire.com.

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