Why Drive-Thru Workers May Be Able To Work From Home Soon

The latest potential trend in drive-thrus has reached the attention of major news. On April 1, Today covered how labor shortage fast food companies face can be mitigated by having remote workers operate drive-thru windows. This is possible by installing a video software in the digital menu board of the drive-thru, making it possible for anyone anywhere can take orders. Basically, it's Zoom for fast food.

One example given by Today is a grandmother who works as a part-time order taker for some extra cash. "I love the job. I love meeting new people every day, the social interaction, and I get to work from home," she explained, adding that she also pays less for gas this way. The benefit these workers bring to restaurants is that it widens the potential staffing pool to potentially worldwide proportions.

Such remote work reached the public consciousness in early February of 2021 when a TikTok video of a remote order taker at Chick-fil-A was watched over 5 million times. This example was rather basic, as it featured an actual tablet strapped to a pole instead of integrating the video feed into the menu. The reaction was more or less accepting. "Covid has really forced us as a society to push forward with technology & efficiency," one person noted. Another asked "Why don't they always do this?" It seems that remote work has reached a point where many people are on board with expanding it to other areas.

Potential problems with this method

The company behind the remote drive-thru system featured in Today is the Y-Combinator funded startup up Bite Ninja. The company was already making ripples in February of 2021 when Restaurant Magazine profiled its attempt to disrupt the restaurant industry. However, something important to note is what Orin Wilson, one of the company's founders, said: "Through our software, recruiting, and training, we can provide restaurants with a huge increase in upsells, near zero defect order-taking, and 100% staff reliability."

Bite Ninja is a recruiting company, not a technology that provides software for restaurants to use with its employees.

These remote workers get hired to work as "Ninjas" through the company's Workable page and the job offerings are categorized not as employees, but as independent contractors. This means already poorly paid fast food work will be outsourced to people who won't be offered benefits and have to provide (and pay for) their own work equipment — one Bite Ninja job listing requires "a reliable, fast internet service along with compatible computer hardware, operating system and a noise canceling headset with microphone." While these expenses are tax deductible, the deduction does not necessarily equal what they could be paid as formal employees. While there are surely people out there who would rather have the independence of working at home with some caveats instead of having to commute to a chain restaurant, only time will tell how widespread this form of remote work will become.