First the McDonald’s Build Your Own Burger kiosk, next Soylent Green
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On Aug. 14, The Independent’s publisher, Josh Warburton, ran a piece on the new McDonald’s Build Your Own Burger kiosk in St. George (officially known as “Create Your Taste” but more commonly known by the former label). If you want to know more about the Build Your Own Burger kiosk, when you’re done here, by all means go back to that link and read about it. Truth be told, I didn’t want to know more about it. To take it a step further, if I had the final say at The Independent, I might not have even run the piece.

But I don’t have the final say. At least not as far as content written by the publisher is concerned. From a business stance, this is probably a good thing. At last count, the article has seen over 850 hits, which equals some pretty good exposure to the Indy’s website that will optimally result in additional revenue which we can spread around to our contributing writers.

However, as it has been speculated here at the Independent more than once—including in Dallas Hyland’s recent opinion piece which revealed that the arrest page is published because that’s what people want to see—perhaps readers don’t know what’s best for them. So from an ethical standpoint, I don’t think we should be giving any more advertising to a fast food restaurant like McDonald’s.

But there’s just a little more to this than just not wanting to give free advertising to a fast food restaurant.

There’s Soylent Green.

So how do I go from the McDonald’s Build Your Own Burger kiosk to this 1973 cult classic in which Charlton Heston discovers … well, is there really anyone out there who doesn’t know the big revelation at the end about the “food” the government provides the people in the futuristic society of “Soylent Green”?


That’s right. Soylent Green is people. So follow along with me for a moment. If you think that the McDonald’s Build Your Own Burger kiosk is only about improving the customer experience as owner Mark Parrish claims in Warburton’s article, I would invite you to go ahead and “camp out” at McDonald’s awhile, as the one of the customers in the article was later quoted as saying. Because, you know, besides being customer-oriented, McDonald’s is good for you, right?

However, as the question of raising the minimum wage has made considerable news as of late, most of you probably suspect the real motive behind this move, and it’s not just customer service. Nor is it the first such effort. In case you haven’t been to a McDonald’s in a bigger city, an Inquisitr article points out that there has been a self-service option at many fast food restaurants for some time now. Not as fancy as the McDonald’s Build Your Own Burger kiosk, but it’s still another way to reduce labor costs.

Reduce labor costs. That sounds nice, right? Reducing costs mean McDonald’s passes those savings on to us, right? What it actually means is “no need to pay people.” While Parrish claims the new Build Your Own Burger service actually adds labor hours, you can bet that as more people start using it, that pendulum is going to swing the other way. I would further bet that as soon as someone can come up with robots cheap enough to “Build Your Own Burger,” McDonald’s will be buying them up right and left.

So what happens when all those previously employed people are replaced by self-service?

Where the McDonald's Build Your Own Burger kiosk could lead
from Giphy

“Soylent Green is people!”

Okay, that’s a little extreme, but seriously, let’s talk about those savings from reducing labor costs. Where do you think that money is going to go?

Probably not into higher quality organic, grass-fed beef. Since many speculate these technological advances are a result of a resistance to increasing minimum wage, it’s probably not going to go into the paychecks of any employees left around to run the kitchen. Nor is it probably going into your pocket.

According to the Inquisitr article, “A 2011 study found that self-service kiosks at restaurants like McDonald’s resulted in order times that were seven seconds faster than when dealing with human beings. That may not seem like much, but the same research study said that shorter order times of that length could result in an increase in a company’s market share by 1 to 3 percent. In terms of the billions of dollars made by a company like McDonald’s, that 1 to 3 percent could mean millions of dollars.”

McDonald's Build Your Own Burger kiosk will net him millions
That’s right, baby. Millions. (image: Simon Burchell)

Unless you own stock in McDonald’s, you’re probably not going to see those savings. And keep in mind those millions of dollars are just the result of simple self-service. In fact, the Build Your Own Burger in St. George is actually more expensive.

I’ve made no secret of my distaste for large box or chain stores. In fact, I’ve been vocal enough in the past that Walmart’s corporate director of communications wrote a letter to the Independent in response to one of my pieces. While I still have some problems with Walmart, at least they aren’t selling a product that most studies say is contributing to the obesity epidemic in our country—if not outright killing people—all the while pandering to children at the same time. Okay, so McDonald’s doesn’t push that angle as much as when I was a kid, but it’s still there.

So I choose not to patronize their business. And if I had the final say, I wouldn’t be giving them free advertising with a story about a new innovation that I feel confident is only going to take away jobs. Technology can do some amazing things and make our lives infinitely easier. But it can also make life infinitely harder for others who used to do those jobs that the technology has filled. And in the case of the McDonald’s Build Your Own Burger kiosk, I chose not to help them push that teenage kid or single mother just trying to support a family into the meat grinder.

I can only imagine the letter The Independent’s going to get after this one.

[For the record, the publisher of The Independent, Josh Warburton, is vegan, so he’s probably not going to be one of those patrons camping out at McDonald’s for every self-service meal.]



  1. I realize this is an “opinion” column… but are your opinions based on any sort of fact or previous experience, or are you just wildly speculating?

    • Well, I am certainly speculating to an extent, but you can’t argue with the fact as stated by the Inquisitr article that automation is something which ends up requiring less human workers and ends up giving more money to shareholders. As to the idea that we’ll all be replaced by machines, while a little Terminator-esque :), you might find this video interesting. I’ve had someone say to me that they had the same fear during the Industrial Revolution, and obviously that didn’t happen, but the difference is that technology these days is smarter and programmed to think, not just do physical labor. Anyway, thanks for your comment. Here is the link to that video.

  2. I don’t know how it would be speculating to say a “build your own…” kiosk would take away jobs . Not much speculation about it. I would hesitate to buy there now.

  3. What we’re seeing here is free enterprise/capitalism at work. The bigger question is how does society in general benefit from McDonalds success and innovation. The tax base they generate is enormous. And where does that tax revenue go ?…schools, public safety., etc. As the worlds largest potato buyer and a significant buyer of many other commodities, there is a huge financial ripple effect. McDonalds is a major contributor to charities worldwide. Sure its good business, so what. Like it or not, we all benefit from the economic activity created by McD’s and the best part is nobody is going to make us eat there is we choose not to.

  4. My favorite McDonalds is the one on Nathan Road in HK just across from the Eaton Hotel. Strangest, but most beautiful McDonalds I have been to, with the greatest panoramic view from the courtyard, is the one in Fez Morocco… Almost 25 years ago, I ate at a McDonalds in mainland China, when HK was still ruled by the Brits… The Chinese in line separated and allowed me to go to the front right away… No adults were eating, just children with happy meals, at that time…. Once I ordered two value meals in a row at the McDs in Paris outside of the Père Lachaise cemetery during a rainstorm where Jim Morrison rests in peace – I hadn’t eaten for two days…. that was a liberating experience…! BUT ALAS – and off point – I will not eat at our local McDonalds… even with the new custom protocol…. They are truly some of the worst Micky Ds I have ever been too, from both a service and quality standpoint… That’s my angle – And yes – I KNOW MY BIG MAC IN PARIS did not have the same ingredients as here in the good ole USA …. but it was ohhh so good…. 🙂

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