California Passed A New Minimum Wage Bill. Now Chipotle Is Testing A Robotic Chip Maker.

 Chipotle announced the rollout of an automated chip machine in southern California on Tuesday.

According to a press release, the company is testing Chippy — an autonomous kitchen assistant designed by Miso Robotics — at a restaurant in Fountain Valley, California, before the Mexican fast food giant considers a “national implementation strategy.” The device has already been tested in Chipotle’s technology innovation facility.

“We are always exploring opportunities to enhance our employee and guest experience,” Chipotle Chief Technology Officer Curt Garner said earlier this year. “Our goal is to drive efficiencies through collaborative robotics that will enable Chipotle’s crew members to focus on other tasks in the restaurant.”

The company also revealed on Tuesday that select restaurants in California are testing a kitchen management system that will optimize ingredient use and cooking activities — a solution that will eliminate “manual tasks” for employees, according to Garner, while “ultimately enabling them to focus on an exceptional culinary and an outstanding guest experience.”

Chipotle’s rollout of automation solutions occurs weeks after Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signed AB 257 — legislation that creates a “Fast Food Council” responsible for drafting “sectorwide minimum standards on wages, working hours, and other working conditions,” according to a summary of the bill.

Members of the Fast Food Council are permitted to raise minimum wages up to $22 per hour, representing an increase of over 40% from the $15.50 per hour minimum wage slated to take effect in 2023. Last year, Chipotle boosted hourly wages to range between $11 per hour and $18 per hour.

The legislation, which applies only to restaurants with 100 or more locations across the United States, faced considerable opposition from fast food chains. Chipotle joined Yum Brands, In-N-Out Burger, and other firms in spending over $1 million to lobby against the bill, according to a report from Forbes.

The bill also comes one year after a sizable portion of California restaurants were forced to close their doors following some of the nation’s most aggressive government lockdowns. In a letter denouncing the legislation, McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger noted that the provisions impose “higher costs on one type of restaurant, while sparing another.”

“If you are a small business owner running two restaurants that are part of a national chain, like McDonald’s, you can be targeted by the bill,” Erlinger explained. “But if you own 20 restaurants that are not part of a large chain, the bill does not apply to you.”

The legislation includes a carveout for restaurants that operate a bakery that “produces for sale bread as a stand-alone menu item.” Erlinger said that “backroom politicking” could explain the exemption.

An analysis from the California Department of Finance said that the legislation introduces a “fragmented regulatory and legal environment for employers” that could “raise long-term costs across industries.” Chipotle has nearly 450 restaurants in the Golden State, according to the company’s website.

Businesses have struggled to fill positions as labor force participation has lagged over the past two years — worsening a decades-long trend of low engagement in the job market. The metric dropped from 63.4% in February 2020 to 60.2% in April 2020 alone amid government lockdowns and business closures, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of August 2022, labor force participation climbed to 62.4%.

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