ESTACADA, Ore. – Diners watched, bemused, as Plato approached their table. The three-and-a-half-foot-tall robot spun and paused, presenting them with their lunch. No one moved, unsure of what would come next, until a man in cowboy boots reached out and took his hamburger before passing another plate to his companions.
Then Plato rolled away, back to The Cazadero’s kitchen.
“How was the experience?” a neighboring customer asked the group, leaning over his chair.
“Phenomenal,” one woman answered, still looking a little confused.
But Plato, United Robotics Group’s hospitality-oriented “cobiot,” hasn’t won over everyone in the timber town of Estacada, Oregon, highlighting the divide between businesses struggling to stay afloat and a customer base skeptical of change.
Here’s why The Cazadero’s owner brought in the robot:
Andrus bought The Cazadero in 2018. Since then, Oregon’s minimum wage has increased by nearly four dollars to $14.20 per hour. Food prices skyrocketed. And finding servers willing to commute to the small town approximately 45 minutes outside of Portland is so difficult that Andrus requests potential employees Google the address before applying.
“You already have a small pool to work from,” she said. “That we’re out in a rural area makes it even harder.”
And apparently, some people are pissed:
She posted on the business Facebook page and local community groups, excited to introduce Plato. But hundreds of angry comments poured in.
“I will never go there again,” “NO THANK YOU,” “Get rid of this we [live] in a small a–– town why in earth!?”
People get what they voted for, and people in Oregon have been voting Democrat for a while now. Now, I’m not terribly familiar with this town; a look at a map indicates it’s a bedroom community serving the Portland area, and while Portland is Proggie Central, folks in many of the outlying areas have saner voting habits.
The real lesson is this: The minimum wage, the actual minimum wage, is and always will be the same: Zero. Increasing costs, and right now it’s not just employment costs but literally everything, will always result in finding some way to streamline. Automation has been one of the primary ways to streamline for quite some time now.
Last time we were in the Denver area, we went with two of the kids to a Red Robin restaurant for lunch. We don’t often favor national chains, but Red Robin usually turns out a good burger, so they’re acceptable. In this (and, according to the server who brought out our food, all the Red Robins in the Denver area) each table has a tablet-like device. You place your order on the tablet, you request drink refills on the tablet, you pay using the tablet.
This is only going to become more widespread, and screeches for increasing minimum wages will only accelerate it.