Subway, the sandwich chain which has over 25,000 restaurants in the United States, is rolling out a makeover it is calling “Fresh Forward.” The new design features a brighter interior with more emphasis on fresh ingredients and technology. In addition to free wi-fi and charging stations for your iPhone, some of the locations will also be introducing self-order kiosks. From Restaurant News:

The new design is big on service platforms, especially on the technology side. The design will feature digital menu boards, Wi-Fi, USB charging ports, and Apple and Samsung Pay.

It will also include kiosks in some locations, a growing feature in more quick-service and fast-casual restaurants. Panera Bread, McDonald’s and Wendy’s are all planning to add kiosks to their restaurants, or have already done so.

To help with those orders, as well as orders from the app, Subway will have a pre-order pickup area. And some locations could have a second make line to handle the influx of orders.

As Jazz has noted here before with regard to Wendy’s and McDonald’s the move toward self-service kiosks and ordering apps are a step in the direction of automation, one that has the potential to reduce the workforce needed. That move comes partly as a result of patrons wanting quicker service, but also seems to be motivated by the big chains keeping their options open as the minimum wage goes up around the country.

Of course, we’re not at the point where there are no humans available to take your order when you walk in, but we may be on the leading edge of phasing out many of those jobs. If people can order and pay using their phones or a combination of in-store kiosks and phones then you’ve cut down on the need for cashiers who take orders. How long will it be before machines can replace the person who fills drinks and the one who fills up your french fry carton? Even the cook flipping the burgers is replaceable if the price is right.

I’m sure it’s not just the cost of labor that’s an issue here, it’s also the risk associated with a hectic working environment (and it is hectic, I know because I worked at McDonald’s one summer long ago). How many slip and fall accidents does McDonald’s deal with from its own employees? How many cooks have been injured accidentally? Having machines take over some of this work has the potential to save them money in other ways. We’re not there yet but we’re starting to see the first wave of automation.