Customers order meals on tablets and pick up food from cubbies at Eatsa, a restaurant in the financial district of San Francisco, California, U.S., September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Henderson
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Clamshell grills are making burger flipping obsolete at McDonald's, Johnny Rockets and other burger chains.Such labor-saving devices have been held out as counterweights to efforts to raise the wages of the lowest paid workers in the U.S. But the early evidence suggests robots and other forms of automation are merely reshaping the work of people in food service. There were slightly more workers per restaurant in 2015 than in 2001, according to data compiled for Reuters by the National Restaurant Association, which opposes minimum wage hikes.Automation in the restaurant industry looms large in the heated campaign to raise entry level pay to $15 an hour, more than double what U.S. federal law now mandates.Restaurants employ more low-wage workers than any other industry, and their operators are among the most vocal opponents of minimum wage hikes. Robotics researchers, restaurant executives, industrial engineers, consultants and economists said, however, automation in the restaurant and fast-food sectors was not as simple as installing automatic tellers in banks or employing robots to assemble cars.Most restaurants serve a range of menu items, each of which might need numerous specialized forms of automation.Burger King attempted a potentially sweeping automation overhaul in the '80s.
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