Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. No tomatoes or onions please. An extra dressing to go.
To drink? Large soy sugar-free vanilla iced latte, please.
To say Panera is my favorite fast food restaurant would be an understatement. When I worked a real job it was my go-to lunch several times a week. Now it’s my office away from home; where I go when I get stir crazy in my little office/music room at home.
Much has been made about the chain’s recent announcement that they will be utilizing more kiosks and remote ordering as we move deeper into the 21st centuries economy where a growing demographic would rather interact with a smart phone than a person.
I, for one, embrace our robot overlords in this case. In my friendly neighborhood Panera, I can order from my cozy corner and never have to risk losing my seat. People who come to Panera to work are ruthless, and power outlets are a hot commodity.
I can input my order on the restaurant’s app while I’m in my driveway about to head that way, estimate what time I’ll be pulling in, and it will be ready for me when I arrive. I can give the app my credit card information, a la Uber, and never have to worry about remembering to take my Panera loyalty card— or even a purse—ever again.
Though many detractors are concerned with the effect this will have on employment, the restaurant says they will not cut their workings. My Panera is even hiring (I know, I know, anecdotal evidence).
People worried about the increasing prevalence of technology in the service industry need to keep their pants on.
All of this is such a beautiful example of creative destruction it makes me giddy (econ nerd alert).
Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of economic innovation that the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one” describes what our economy is going through perfectly.
Here are a few examples:
The pager industry is dead. Twenty years ago it was basically the only way to get in touch with someone when they were away from a phone. Thousands of pager salesmen lost their jobs selling pagers, manufacturers were shut down. But what came in its place?
Today I can order my Fuji-Apple-Chicken-Salad-with-no-tomatoes-or-onions-and-an-extra-dressing-please from anywhere in the country with a rectangular piece of glass, metal, and silicon that I take with me everywhere. Not only that, I can keep in easy contact with millions of people, whose phone numbers I don’t even need to know. I can pay bills, I can play games, I can take thousands of pictures. You have one too, you know how amazing it is.
OH, and you don’t have to be a millionaire to have one. Almost anyone can get a smartphone, and they will have the exact same technology in their hand that a “1 percenter” has
Another example, this one provided by the great Tom Woods: “In a free-market economy, businesses invest most of their profits in capital goods designed to make labor more productive. My own father was a forklift operator in a food warehouse for 15 years. The forklift made it possible to move and stack far more pallets than a worker could have done in the past, and to reach heights that would have been impossible with his bare hands. [emphasis added] Likewise, a steam shovel can do the work of many men with regular shovels. The combined result of all this is that the economy can now produce far more than before.”
Anyone who claims that increasing technology will ‘take our jobs’ hasn’t been paying attention for the past two hundred years.
Technology has improved the lives of the Americans over and over again. When Panera makes my life easier by making it more likely that I have an accurate order and am thus a more satisfied customer, they gain a loyal customer. By gaining more loyal customers and diverting more of their resources to innovation they are able to use creative destruction to their advantage, instead of it being the cause of their demise.
If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that creative destruction will continue to happen, and it will undoubtedly make our lives better.