02 Sep Rollin’ With the Changes
Over the weekend, my family and I went to Red Robin (Yummmm!) for a meal. Having not been to the restaurant in a while, we were suprised to see a “Ziosk” on the table. The Ziosk is essentially a tablet that lets customers play games (for $1.99 fee of course), peruse the menu, order additional items, call our server, and even pay our bill, all electronically and all without having to wait for the human server. To be honest, I thought it was a nifty device and maybe something that Red Robin was testing or rolling out to all restaurants.
Then comes this story out of San Francisco, Eatsa, a restaurant in San Francisco’s Finanical district does all its order via I-Pad and cooked by humans never seen by the patrons. Unlike Red Robin, Eatsa’s fast food business model seems to rely solely on technology for placing orders. San Francisco is one of a handful of jurisdictions that have implemented a $15/hour minimum wage so Eatsa and others, like McDonald’s, are experimenting with technology as a means to reduce labor costs. The profit margin in fast food, indeed all restaurants, is pretty thin and when labor costs go up, owners begin looking for ways to make things cheaper.
So what does this have to do with law or small business? Well the obvious is that changes in laws and regulations means businesses have to look for new ways of doing business or suffer increased costs and possibly loss of business. Sometimes, like in the case of Eatsa or McDonald’s, it means using technology to supplant human labor. In the case of Red Robin, technology might be a mechanism to enhance revenue by speeding up table turnover, maybe enhance the experience, and make a few bucks as they go. Sometimes changes in laws present an opportunity for business owners to sit down with their outside management team (their lawyer, accountant, insurance broker, banker, and key employees) and look for options to change the way they do business.
To me the less obvious connection between these stories is the dying of the human touch. When I go to a sit down restaurant like Red Robin, I expect and welcome the human interaction with a server. A good server enhances my dining experience. The downfall of Eatsa and McDonald’s may be related to the loss of the human touch. Perhaps the way the service industry needs to react is not by shifting to all technology but to beefing up the quality of the human interaction. I had a client/referral source tell me recently that I was the first lawyer he ever worked with that was approachable, that made an effort to meet him on his terms. When you look at other service providers in your business or your life, are they approachable? Do they offer a human touch?