Survey: Wendy's Automation Brings Backlash

    Industry News | June 7, 2016

    When news broke that Wendy’s increased automation would eat into its staffing, market researcher CivicScience polled consumers to determine whether it would affect their likelihood to patron the chain.

    “These companies make these decisions primarily for cost-saving measures. The restaurant industry is not the first nor the only and they certainly won’t be the last to find ways to increase profits by replacing human costs with machine costs,” says John Dick, founder and CEO of CivicScience. “The Internet has done that countless times to people.”

    According to the survey results, 40 percent of women and 37 percent of men reported that the negative implications of kiosks outweighed the benefits. Generational divides showed Baby Boomers most opposed and Gen-Xers most accepting with Millennials falling somewhere in the middle.

    These results, however, should not be taken as an accurate reflection of consumers’ general feelings towards kiosks. In the specific case of Wendy’s, the brand made a point to publically attribute its increased automation to recent minimum wage hikes. This declaration set the company up for plenty of criticism—from both Democrats and Republicans, according to the survey.

    “I was surprised at how directly Wendy’s attributed this decision to minimum wage—that was in their commentary, which was sure to invite some political backlash. They could’ve just done it and said, ‘We think it’s the right thing for our customer,’” Dick says. “They didn’t need to make the political statement that they made if you think about it. They could have spun it from day one.”

    Dick points out that so much of the kiosk acceptance lies in its functionality. Machines that regularly glitch or have a less-than-straightforward interface are not going to find favor among consumers, regardless of their social values. But when automation is a success, it can improve the overall customer experience.

    “There are companies like Sheetz, which has grown very fast and catching a lot of attention as a food-forward convenience store [where] those kinds of kiosks have been the norm for probably a decade, and Sheetz is doing entirely well, and I don’t think they’ve suffered any kind of political backlash,” Dick says. “I suspect that kind of ‘push a button on a screen and get what you want’ is only going to increase in how common it is—not only how common, but how preferred it might be.”


    By Nicole Duncan