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Computer Manages Restaurant Workers 381

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the all-your-chicken-are-belong-to-us dept.
9x320 writes "The chicken restaurant chain Zaxby's has started to use computers with software by Hyperactive Technologies to direct employees what to do and when to do it, and to decide how many should come to work. The computer works through the use of sensors, analysis of historic data, and touchscreens. The article compares the software to that in a science fiction novel published only just a few years ago, except the computer, Manna, also carried a voice synthesizer."
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Computer Manages Restaurant Workers

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I for one welcome our new computer overlords.
    • Re:I for one... (Score:5, Informative)

      by creimer (824291) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:35PM (#15876489) Homepage
      Obviously, you never worked in a resturant when the computer system goes down. It's funny as heck. The wait staff has to learn how to count money (although their ability to calculate the tip is not diminished). The line cooks can't read handwriting (even in Spanish!) for orders. Bartenders stick their head in ice since they haven't memorized how do any drinks that isn't straight off the tap. Managers are threatening to fire anyone if their table leaves without paying.

      As Scotty said in Star Trek 3: "The more complex the plumbing, the easier to clog the drain." Ahh, matey, I welcome our computer overlods for a very different reason. :P
      • "Bartenders stick their head in ice since they haven't memorized how do any drinks that isn't straight off the tap."

        Wow...now grant it, I've been out of the restaurant business for a LONG time, but, do they really have electronic readouts for the bartenders to make drinks from?

        I've never seen this in any bars I go to...most of them seem to know a large number of recipes. I remember having to memorize a good number of them back in the day, and we had the old manual 'guide' we used for the oddb

    • Redundant?

      How about "All your bouillabaisse are belong to us"?
  • Just when you thought a fast food job couldn't get more mindless and boring... Now employees can make NO decisions at all, which is both good and bad in a way.
  • First all the "news photos" that are badly implemented by the matrix that they look like bad photoshops; now we see computer overlords directing food store employees. Next thing you know you'll see the same cat twice.
  • I knew that my managers could be replaced by an overgrown abacus and it would increase productivity.

    Someone please page me when they create a Hyperactive Bob that functions as a CFO. It would really help with the predictability of workflow.
  • Hey (Score:5, Funny)

    by ch-chuck (9622) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @03:51PM (#15876176) Homepage
    The computer directed me to round up all the neighborhood dogs - I'm just doing what it says, something about compensating for supply defeciency.

    • Re:Hey (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bahwi (43111)
      It's funny, but it's true. I hate when restaurants are, "We're out of avocado" or whatever. There's a grocery store less than a mile from here, can you get the manager off his ass to go get some real quick? Or better yet, when there's only two left and deliveries are in 2 days.
  • by mesmartyoudumb (471890) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @03:51PM (#15876177) Homepage
    We're going to need you to go ahead come in on saturday, Mmm..kay?
  • by UbuntuDupe (970646) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @03:51PM (#15876178) Journal
    Minimum flair items: 16

    You currently have: 16

    ?You are member of subset "Always Do Minimum"? (Y/N)
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Bob [wikipedia.org] Bob is working these days.
  • Great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by raydobbs (99133) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @03:53PM (#15876184) Homepage Journal
    Now we go from management that acts like robots, to robots that... well, you get the idea.

    We don't need this kind of heavy-handed management, we need more people who can manage and work with their company's talent - just not tell them to move around, and generally act like robots.

    I'd imagine that some chains WILL adopt this technology, but people will not take it well to be ordered around, hired and fired, and generally live their lives around the whims of some computer program.

    Management is more than telling people what to do, and when to do it - you need to act as a leader as well as a stablizing force in the workplace. A PC running this slave-driver software does neither.
    • Re:Great... (Score:5, Funny)

      by CXI (46706) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:03PM (#15876271) Homepage
      Yes, that's exactly what we need. Someone to manage a fast food restaurant's talent. After all, the one thing every fast food manager looks for is an employee who will step outside of the box and innovate! Someone who will try new things with the franchise, even at the possibility of lost sales, for the larger return in the future!

      End sarcasm. Get a grip on reality. Fast food service is nothing but robotic work already, and that's the way the chains like it. If you don't want to be a robot, get a job somewhere else.
      • Re:Great... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by OldeTimeGeek (725417)
        Fast food service is nothing but robotic work already, and that's the way the chains like it.

        I hate to break it to you, but the reason that it's so robotic isn't because the chains like it that way, it's because customers prefer it that way.

        One of the reasons that fast food chains were so popular in the beginning was because the food was prepared the same way no matter where someone went. It might not have been the greatest food on earth, but it was consistent. It's much the same way today - otherwise, why

        • Re:Great... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by cayenne8 (626475)
          "One of the reasons that fast food chains were so popular in the beginning was because the food was prepared the same way no matter where someone went."

          I rarely eat fast food....hell, I rarely eat at chain restaurants, but, have more in the past year due to being displaced by katrina. In New Orleans, you have a far larger number of locally owned restaurants...and though there are some chains...they are local chains. I lived near Lakeview...and there wasn't a McD's for miles from me.

          Anyw

        • Re:Great... (Score:3, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          Fast food service is nothing but robotic work already, and that's the way the chains like it.

          I hate to break it to you, but the reason that it's so robotic isn't because the chains like it that way, it's because customers prefer it that way.

          Burger King, Wendy's and Subway - all make considerable money by offering food that *isn't* handled in a robotic way. Your beliefs are warped by working at McDonalds, which makes its money on absolute conformity and discourages special orders.

    • Re:Great... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kadin2048 (468275) <.slashdot.kadin. .at. .xoxy.net.> on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:31PM (#15876461) Homepage Journal
      we need more people who can manage and work with their company's talent

      Talent? We're talking about fast food here.

      The only reason they have people working in the back of a McDonalds/Zaxbys/whatever is because people are cheaper than machines. It's tough to program a robot to assemble burgers effeciently (dealing with mis-shapen patties, etc.).

      The only reason that any of those people have jobs is because the cost of the machine that would replace them, costs more than the stream of cash that they're paid. (That is to say, the present value of the income stream which is their salary, is less than the upfront purchase cost plus maintaince costs of a machine.)

      When machines get better at doing things, so that they're the cheaper option, they do the jobs instead of people.

      What's ironic here is that it's the manager's job that's being computerized before the burger-boy's one.
      • Re:Great... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dthree (458263)
        "What's ironic here is that it's the manager's job that's being computerized before the burger-boy's one."

        That doesn't surprise me at all. So many places (and I don't mean just fast food) practice "management-by-binder" that having a manager that can actually think on their feet is considered a liability to them. Its a easy leap to replace the manager/binder with a computer terminal. The trouble with this method is that the people writing the binders usually haven't ever worked in the stores and have no exp
    • I'd imagine that some chains WILL adopt this technology, but people will not take it well to be ordered around, hired and fired, and generally live their lives around the whims of some computer program.

      RTFA. You're over-reacting, not to mention a complete moron.

      This isn't about hiring or firing. It's about logistics. Computers can analyze historical data and trends much faster than a human ever could. It can make decisions about what foods need to be cooked and how much to satisfy demand, decrease

    • Re:Great... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by siriuskase (679431) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @05:19PM (#15876749) Homepage Journal
      Management is more than telling people what to do, and when to do it - you need to act as a leader as well as a stablizing force in the workplace. A PC running this slave-driver software does neither.

      Our assistant pastor explained this to me, his weekday job was managing a Wendy's. I remarked that was a strange choice for a man with his seminary education. He replied not at all, that to his way of thinking, it was mainly a ministry to his employees. Although his Wendy's was at least as good as any other Wendy's, he had hired quite a collection of people who needed a second, third, or fourth chance. It was all people skills, and practically nothing an MBA would want to get involved with on a daily basis.
  • Is managing a fast food restaurant so hard that you need a computer to do it for you? Worked in a few -- not rocket science. It's an interesting idea to use trend analysis and inventory control to map out ordering and control costs by managing employees time, but I think it's wasted on the fast food industry. Now if Ford or Boeing or even my local supermarket chain were using it, that would be interesting.

    • Ever actually been to a Zaxby's? There's nothing fast about it. Don't go there if you're hungry, because you'll be ready to kill and eat the counter girl before they get your food ready.

      To me this just screams corporate snafu. I can hear the boardroom conversation right now:

      "Holy cow Bob, we're getting zillions of complaints about our extremely slow food process, should we tell the workers it's okay to put a little extra chicken in the fryer during lunch rush?"

      "WHAT?!? Our customers depend on our promise to
    • Re:Seriously (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thesandtiger (819476) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:16PM (#15876363)
      It isn't that it's so difficult - it's that it's so easy. Fast food restaurants are pretty predictable environments for many of the tasks of a manager: Scheduling worker's shifts, determining how much of what needs to be cooked when, organizing inventory, etc. A simple program using a bit of historical data would be able to handle much of that, while an intelligent inventory management system can handle the rest.

      For things that a computer cannot handle, such as dispute resolution or angry customers - a change in policy allowing employees a bit more latitude in handling customer complaints or a centralized number for disgruntled customers to contact would handle quite a bit. For disputes, a single trained mediator could handle disputes arising across a wide region. To keep employees from slacking off too much, random inspections (but at least once a week) could be done - someone goes into a place and spends an hour going over a checklist.

      From an expense standpoint, this would also be cheaper - no manager salaries, no assistant manager salaries. From an employee standpoint, this would be a win: service employees would be able to take a more direct approach to handling customer issues, and would need to spend less time dealing with stupid dictator manager-guy at what is already a shit job.

      Personally, I think this is exactly the kind of place to do this.

      • Re:Seriously (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
        The problem, as always, is getting it to understand things that can't be pulled from regularly compiled statistics.

        A meat manager can look at the hostage standoff going on a block away, and realize that he's going to need to call someone in, as hungry cops, reporters, and rubberneckers will certainly be filling the place up. The same thing applies to anything that breaks the day/week/month/year pattern. There is contruction on the other side of the street, so you get twice as much traffic because no one can
        • Things like a crisis situation or something completely out of the ordinary can be handled by having a number an employee can contact - or by having certain "extraordinary circumstances" modes that the system can be tripped into.

          With regard to the supply checking issues - actually, I would trust the minimum-wage fry-cook because things not being in good order will make his life more difficult.

          Honestly, I think much of the reason staff at these places are so bad is because they're micro-managed. Give them a l
    • I think the point is that it's cheaper to use the system than to pay a managing manager. With Hyperactive Bob, all you need are turnkeys, and maybe one working manager. As for quality, do you think a manager you pay $7.50/hr is always going to make the optimal decision? What about when they are on vacation? I've seen plenty of mismanaged fast-food stores (when I installed POS systems) and I gotta tell you, I'd NEVER eat at them.

      As to whether it's appropriate for a fast food restaurant, look at it this
    • Didn't work in 1998 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Quasar1999 (520073) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:20PM (#15876381) Journal
      Zehrs (a local supermarket chain in southern ontario) attempted to use software to schedule employee shifts back in the late 90's while I was lucky enough to work there. It ended up being a massively confusing schedule with no logic to it, and was constantly over/under staffing shifts. No software out there is capable of predicting work conditions as well as someone who has experience.

      All the past data and statistics will not prepare you for the shopping frenzy that occurs when a thunderstorm hits. I recall 20-30% increase in customer volume when the weather was poor. That's just one outside factor... the software maybe able to account for that by checking the weather forecast, but it can't account for other factors like a show being canceled on TV, or a construction detour increasing or decreasing customer volume.

      I say it didn't work in 1998, I highly doubt it'll work in 2006. The problem cannot be defined as a formula, and until it can, no computer will be able to solve it.
      • by PitaBred (632671) <.gro.sndnyd.derbatip. .ta. .todhsals.> on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:49PM (#15876595) Homepage
        You don't know much about fuzzy logic, do you? You just said yourself a 20-30% increase in volume happens when a thunderstorm hits. But that's not always something that's predicted, even by the smartest manager. Or even the weatherman. It's just something that you'll have to deal with when the time comes. But if the system has data from the past 5 or 6 years of staffing and sales volumes, I'd bet that it'll be able to tell that, say, the 2nd week of April needs a few more people per shift than the first week of December (or whatever). I've had managers that scheduled things so we were overstaffed or understaffed. Or completely forgot that I wasn't able to make it in on Monday afternoons and scheduled me anyway. All that the system really needs to do is be able to take manual changes EASILY, handle them GRACEFULLY, and LEARN from those changes. After you get that done... well, the sky's the limit. Scheduling is very hard. Very few managers can do it reliably. I'd take a machine that's well designed over about 90% of the people that I have had write my schedules before.
      • by Jtheletter (686279) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:50PM (#15876603)
        But your hu-mon manager could somehow presciently account for all the rare cases you mentioned? I assume when there was something like a severe weather rush the manager picked up the phone and called off-duty employees to ask them to help, what prevents the store manager in the computer-run scenario from doing the same? Or hell, there could be an option on the screen "Recruit 'X' off-duty employees" and the system calls them and has them punch 1 for "I'll be right there" or 2 for "screw you Chad Vader, I'm not working Saturday night."

        This system only removes the human element from the up front scheduling task, but it doesn't replace the shift manager position, there is still a person running things who can make decisions for rare cases.

        No software out there is capable of predicting work conditions as well as someone who has experience.

        Except that software and hardware have come a long ways since the mid 90s, and with proper "training" by an experienced manager the system could be taught the "intuition" that person knows, and do things like you suggested - monitoring weather and scheduling appropriately. Blizzard predicted this week? Past register data shows a 45% increase in customers starting 36 hours before the storm, better add 2 extra employees etc. Prediciton will never be 100%, but then, it's not with a human manager either, and if they really need another employee for some reason, the manager can still pick up the phone himself.
      • And your human scheduler will be able to predict when a thunderstorm will hit?

        A computer can come up with a rational base schedule, at least as well as a human. It takes some programming, but it's not that hard a problem. (I've done it, for a situation which needed a set number of people on at all times.)

        I wouldn't turn it completely over to the computer at this point: they'll have trouble when something unexpected happens, but handing the grudge work over to the computer and having a human as backup who
    • Well I don't know about the scheduling part of it, it admittedly doesn't seem like it ought to be that hard, but then again people probably though the same thing about putting in your monthly resupply order to the local warehouse, 10 years ago.

      Now, any business worth its salt, particularly one that deals in perishables, has automated or semi-automated systems for managing a supply chain, and helping to ensure that the right amount of inventory is kept on-hand at various places. A big fast food restaurant pr
  • Many moons ago when I used to work at a homestyle food chain, the computer in the managers office ran a management suite that projected how much of what kind of food should be loaded that day, sales projections, etc. It even had a running tally of sales vs labor costs that would let the manager know which kind of employee to send home that day if sales weren't high enough to justify having them work (there was always a willing volunteer to go home early). I remember that the manager wasn't allowed to lea
  • Very scary (Score:4, Interesting)

    by afidel (530433) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @03:55PM (#15876201)
    When I read Manna I thought it was more a work of horror then sci-fi kind of like Event Horizon, now it's coming true, very scary indeed.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @03:55PM (#15876204) Homepage Journal

    One of the problems with managers is that they are human and thus irrational. The computer will not play solitaire and go golfing instead of developing the end-year financials. It will not continually direct the weakest employees to the most critical jobs. Hell, it will probably be smart enough not to schedule the weakest employees on the businest days, which would be a fucking miracle compared, apparently, to most fast-food managers. It wouldn't schedule people for a training shift on those days, either.

    By all means, let the computer run the people in this case. The people are mostly doing jobs that computer could do better anyway. McDonalds uses french-fry making robots in its busiest locations and they knock the humans right out of the box. The only reason they don't use them everywhere is that they're expensive to install and probably to maintain whereas when part-time workers get sick or sloppy you just shitcan them and bring in another underachiever. Regardless, sooner or later the only people actually working in fast food will be truck drivers and machine repairmen.

    • One of the problems with managers is that they are human and thus irrational.

      I agree. It may be that the smartest thing for McDonalds to do, is launch a nuclear strike against Burger King. Irrational human managers may not understand how the benefits of nuclear war exceed the costs, but a computer can weigh the factors in a detached manner and come to the most logical conclusion.

      • I agree. It may be that the smartest thing for McDonalds to do, is launch a nuclear strike against Burger King.

        McDonalds vs Burger King - Result: Annihilation
        McDonalds vs Wendys - Result: Annihilation
        McDonalds vs Taco Bell - Result: Annihilation
        McDonalds vs Pizza Hut - Result: Annihilation

        Conclusion: The only winning move is not to play.
    • The computer will not play solitaire and go golfing instead of developing the end-year financials.

      Lets see.... Start menu... Programs... Accessories... Games.... What's this, SOLITAIRE?

      Nope, don't trust it.
    • One of the problems with managers is that they are human and thus irrational. The computer will not play solitaire and go golfing instead of developing the end-year financials. It will not continually direct the weakest employees to the most critical jobs. Hell, it will probably be smart enough not to schedule the weakest employees on the businest days, which would be a fucking miracle compared, apparently, to most fast-food managers. It wouldn't schedule people for a training shift on those days, either.

      I
      • Exactly. Realitically a computer could never do a managers job. But it can do a fine dandy job or schedule management, even inventory management. This will free the managers time to actually do what he does best, act human. (ie help customers, encourage staff, etc)
    • Fry making robots? I've haven't seen those but at my closest McDonalds they have an automated drink filling machine for the drive-thru. Its connected to the order system so when someone orders a #4 with a coke a cup is automatically droped out, filled with ice and soda and is ready for serving to a customer.

      I always wondered if there were other automated things at McDonalds and now I know.
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother&optonline,net> on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @03:56PM (#15876217) Journal

    Overheard behind the counter: "I'm sorry Bob, I can't allow you to jeopardize the restaurant. This conversation can serve no useful purpose. Goodbye."

  • customers_suck [livejournal.com] threatens to get way funnier.

    What, no breakfast at 11:30? I demand to speak to your manager!
    I don't think you want--
    I'm the customer, I'm always right, and I get speak to your manager now!
    Okay, but I warned you...
    BEEP BEEP FREE BEATINGS FOR MEAT BEINGS

    Suddenly 'Hoboken, NJ versus Giant Robot' gets a lot funnier.
    • I like the concept of rewriting Asimov's laws for customer service, except that the order in which they would be written would have to be reversed so that the precedence still worked properly.

      1. The franchisee is always right.

      2. The use of burgers must be done in the most efficient manner possible, so long as this does not conflict with Rule #1.

      3. The customer is always right, so long as he does not conflict with Rules #1 & 2.

      Really, any laws could be inserted in Rule 1 and 2, but "The customer

    • Would a robot instructed to do no harm to humans sell an obese customer a supersized burger, fries and sugary cola?

      The robot would have to practice self defense when the customer attacks it.
  • Disney Does this (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SafariShane (560870) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:00PM (#15876246)
    I left *just* before they deployed something very similar at WDW. They called it "cast deployment" and it was mainly used to replace the rotation system they had in place. (if it took 3 people to run a ride, they would staff 4 and all would rotate through positions, one of those positions being break or lunch)

    Mostly, they used it to cut down on the amount of breaks that workers were getting. Since no one at disney works in the heat, or has to keep a happy face on at all times, or deal with irate customers, they figured it was just fine to restrict everyone to their contractually obligated break schedules. It really is a magical place!
  • After it's all done here are the results: the food at Zaxby's still sucks.
  • I'll immediately start work then on the PHB module so that we can finally "outsource" the managers who are so fond of doing it to us :)

    What goes around...
  • This is old news... I blogged about a similar article [digitalcrusader.ca] on July 3rd. I have also written a review of manna [digitalcrusader.ca].
  • I can't see an automated system doing this better than a human being. Then again it couldn't be much worse. Time and again I've walked out of "fast" food joints when it became obvious that Mr. Junior Part-Time Assistant Manager had scheduled about four less employee drones than were needed.

    I wonder how many of these chains that measure "efficiency" only by the number dollars spent on employees also bother to measure customer dissatisfaction and the number of people who look at a line up of fifteen people at
    • They think that the line up of fifteen people is proof of the store's popularity and that they'll adequately fulfill their profit margins.

      Plus they know you'll go home, watch some American Idol, and in the process you'll forget your Slashdot musings about how stupid their management is in hiring so few employees, and then come back to them another day.

      BTW American Idol trials started yesterday! Politics be damned, I've got to watch Simon be a grade-A jackass again! Isn't apathy fun!
  • ...but does it run Linux?

  • Would this mean taking orders from that stupid 'Clippy'???
  • Fast forward a few years when the employees have finally been conditioned to obey their computerized 'manager' without question.

    Bored 13 year old roots Zaxby's and displays a simple message on the "manager"'s CRT: "Piss on the grill or you're fired!".

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:14PM (#15876345) Homepage

    Getting past the blogodreck, the real website of Hyperactive Bob [gohyper.com] is scary. "Managing Chaos (Humans Not Included)". This is a robot scheduling and control system from CMU, originally developed to manage groups of robots in factories. In this application, people are substituted for the robots to lower costs. Really. "The kitchen is quiet with Bob", because employees no longer need to talk. "80% reduction in training costs" for kitchen staff.

    The system (which is physically a PC, some cameras, some touchscreens, and a link into the POS system) takes about two days to install. Then it watches everything for two weeks, while it learns the customer and staff patterns.

    Then it takes over.

    People should work. Machines should think.

  • by kahrytan (913147)

      I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords. Seriously, I am a slave to my computer. I would do what it tells me to do within legal limits.
  • and I'm not gonna use Bash:-P
  • In my days of fast food, it was pretty clear that a tin can was more intelligent than a store manager.

    My favorite was when the outdoor freezers broke (in the middle of winter). The store manager decided that rather than leave the food in the broken freezer (in the dead of winter) that he would have the crew (me) bring all of the food inside. The reasoning was that once you bring in things like hamburger buns, you put a sticker on them that says they are good for X days. Of course, nobody could explain to hi
    • Your manager was (partially) right to do this. unless you were willing to volunteer to monitor the temperature of the freezer 24/7. Probably, he should've just had you put the stickers on the food and left it there (depending on how dead your winters are), but without any way to be sure the temperature was at the regulation temperature, he really has no choice but to assume the worst case.

      Bringing the food in assured that it would be maintained at a regulated (albeit higher) temperature by the store's cli
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:23PM (#15876401) Homepage Journal
    So Bob is running the place, and everything is fine. But what do you do when the insanely irate customer demands to speak to the manager in hopes of shouting horribly at a stranger until a free Large Fries is obtained? Bob can't help with that.

    That's when ELIZA [wikipedia.org] takes over. Simply diect the customer to the nearby terminal.

    >HELLO CUSTOMER

    >is this the manager?

    >WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS THE MANAGER?

    >my frys were cold and I paid for this crap

    AND WHY DO YOU THINK YOU PAID FOR THIS CRAP?

    >i wanted hot firies but they was cold dammit!

    >AND WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK IS COLD DAMMIT?
  • w00t!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by sharkey (16670) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:24PM (#15876404)
    If you think people were pissed when the computer wouldn't let them get their CARS out of the garage, just wait until the computer won't let the PEOPLE out of the freezer because the restaraunt owner and the software vendor are mad at each other!

  • as long as their chicken fingers, wings, and seasoned fries are still awesome. Oh, and the ice is still crushed and not cubed. No place is closer to heaven to me...
  • 3 Laws? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by onetwentyone (882404)
    So will they be 3 Laws compliant and if so, for how long? ;)
  • by danpsmith (922127) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @04:55PM (#15876629)
    Since I got my computer science bachelor's and hadn't been able to find a programming job with it, I thought maybe I could take said degree and become a middle manager at a fast food joint or something. Only now it appears that job is going to be taken: BY A COMPUTER!

    Screwed again.
  • Paging Mr. Asimov (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sylver Dragon (445237) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @05:06PM (#15876694) Journal
    Was I the only one that thought immediatly of Asimov's dsytopian Earth in the Robot Novels when I read this? How long until we reach the point that all work is directed by machines? And will humanity accept it? I think that, in then end, laziness will win out and we will stagnate and decay under machine rule. The only question about such a state is: if there are machines running evrything, will they find a way to compensate and keep the majority of humanity comfortable enough to not revolt?
    Fortunatly, it's a long way off before that level of sophistication will exist, so at least I'll be dead. Still, I do sort of wish I could watch the outcome.
  • by rebill (87977) on Wednesday August 09, 2006 @05:49PM (#15876911) Journal
    It would be fun to see how they solved the hard part of of predicting staffing needs in restaurants - "special events".

    Sales in a restaurant are semi-predictable in normal weeks ... Tuesdays tend to be less than half the sales of a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. However, there are outside things that interfere with the normal ebb and flow of this day-in and day-out grind. For example:

    Thanksgiving is defined to occur on a the fourth Thursday in November (in the U.S.), so the before and after spike in sales (and choosing to close the restaurant on Thanksgiving Day itself) can be predicted. Of course, Thanksgiving in Canada is a different day ... so it had better be configurable!

    Christmas Day is always on December 25, but it falls on Monday, this year, Tuesday in 2008, and so it ... so it has an an interference pattern that covers a seven year span. Gathering sales information to properly predict that may take 7+ years of sales data.

    Easter always falls on a Sunday, but it drifts as much as a month. If your restaurant always closes on Easter, then it becomes easy, but that is not an option for family buffet restaurants.

    Superbowl always falls on a Sunday, an tries to be on the same day each year, but it has drifted in the recent past, so it can be as hard to figure out as Easter.

    Then there are the one-off special events that no one can predict. What computer could predict that Thursday, May 14, 1998 was going to be one of the highest sales day of the entire year for every U.S. pizza delivery chain? Thursdays are not as "dead" as Tuesdays, but they rarely if every compare to the sales on a Friday night.

    That particular Thursday, however, was the day that the series finale of Seinfeld premeired.

    If they have figured out how to predict the "Seinfeld" ... then they have truly done a wondrous thing ... because I was not smart enough to figure out how to do it when I tried in 2002.
  • by Barbarian (9467) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @12:11AM (#15878467)
    Most fast food places with >20 employees already use a computer to schedule staff based on sales volume and abilities. However, the systems are far from perfect. When I was in college, I was an assistant manager for a major fast food chain. The computer was used to generate a schedule that would then require heavy modification to be workable.

    Anyways, I was responsible for scheduling for a year. Each employee had about 20 parameters you could enter, which included tasks that they could do, and a rating of their ability. However filling these fields in is more difficult than you think--for one, how an employee works when the manager is around is much different than how he works the rest of the time. Also, unless they assign one person to spend 40 hours a week observing people, it is impossible to get objective scores for any task. If you have 3 hours a week to make the schedule, with 80 employees, you don't have such time.

    The other half of the problem is that sales volumes (kept track of by the POS system) only tell half of the story. Were the sales low because only 2/3 of the necessary 21 staff were scheduled? Well, the computer will schedule only 10 next time. Two employees can never work with each other without getting into a major screaming match and catfight--the computer does not have a way to set this criteria. Of course, you can build a system that takes many more inputs, and has overrides for special cases, like telling it that you got completely screwed due to lack of staff, but then these will just be abused by individual management to their own ends--a computer isn't a very good lie detector, and can't tell that Jeremy keeps pushing the panic button so that the next week he can sit around in the office with three of his employees (who are the only friends he has) and make straw swords with which to re-enact episode 2.

    Computers are also pretty bad at phoning people on the day when 5 people called in sick (usually when there's some major attraction in town for the weekend, or it's a really nice sunny day) to find replacement workers. It's hard for a computer to appeal on an emotional level without making threats -- "Come in, or you're fired!" rarely works, making false promises does.

    Finally, it's pretty damn hard to fire a $100 000 computer for being a complete moron of a manager. Humans are accountable because they usually have bills to pay, family that depends on them, etc. What are you going to do, sue the software vendor who made you sign a 20 page disclaimer first?

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