Minimum wage and the rise of the machines

The machines are rising in the hotel business. But is this a good thing?

The hotel and restaurant industries are teetering on a technological precipice. A change so significant it’s guaranteed to inexorably alter customer service and the hotel experience. Whether it’s for better or worse, that’s still to be determined.

But it doesn’t really matter right about now. The truth is technology is a red herring covering up what’s really happening: A deepening fight over wage issues and the future of the lower-rung worker in the American economy. Technology is being used as a proxy to keep employee wages at their current level.

Replacing people with technology is a powerful move for lodging operators and owners, but one with dangerous unintended consequences. It’s a magnified reflection of what’s happening throughout the service industry and society in general.

Unfortunately, the people which will be most directly affected don’t seem to understand or appreciate what is happening. In fact, I do not think most fully grasp what’s about to take place. The next decade is going to see a major technological burst, resulting in a shift to automation with the potential to make most lower-paying jobs obsolete.

Those folks in the streets protesting for a national $15 minimum wage don’t realize the more they fight, the more likely they’re going to be out of work. Add in rising health care costs and the picture becomes darker still.

Just this fall McDonald’s rolled out an automation initiative to replace cashiers with kiosks. Uber is testing automated cars and an automated delivery truck dropped off 50,000 beers; no drivers required. Another dirty secret, all those manufacturing jobs that have been promised to come back to the States will never happen. Automation renders most of those jobs irrelevant. Get this: Manufacturing is at an all-time high, but less jobs are required to produce goods.

Say Bye, Bye to Entry Level Hotel Jobs

In hotels, people have always been required to fill many jobs. Automation, however, gives hoteliers the ability to eliminate many full and part-time positions. Whether that is good for building long-term relationships with guests is another story altogether, here’s how automation may kill the entry-level job in the hotel business.

Front Desk Clerks: With keyless entry and check-in kiosks, there’s no real reason to have multiple employees in the hotel lobby. At larger hotels I see many people checking folks in and out, but in the future only one will be needed as a backup measure.

Shuttle Van Driver: With automated vehicles guaranteed to take over the roads, the airport shuttle van driver won’t be needed any longer. While they may help toss a bag or two in the van, it’s not really something that’s needed. Expect this job to be history.

Bell Stand Employees: Robots will be used to transport luggage to rooms, and guests will love this one. I think most people already resent having to tip these people for not really doing all that much, and owners will love it when lugging-schlepping robots appear.


Room Service Delivery: We’re already seeing robots from companies like Savioke delivering certain items to rooms such as toothbrushes and more. Soon enough, robots will be designed that can bring food to guestrooms as well.

Restaurant Servers: I am seeing with increasing frequency, self-serve ordering systems. Right now, it’s mostly at airports, but the allure is too great for hoteliers to ignore. People order what they want off of a screen and one server can handle delivering the food rather than an entire cadre of personnel.

Everything is about to change, and the industry must consider the unintended consequences of automation. We talk about heightening customer service, but without the people there to smile and care the industry may wind up hurting itself in the long run by trying to save money in the short term.

What do you think is the threshold where technology stops being beneficial and actually hurts the hotel? Let me know your thoughts with an email at [email protected], or on Twitter and Instagram @TravelingGlenn and share your opinions with me.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group and/or its subsidiaries.