Don’t Let Grocery Stores and Fast Food and Full-Service Restaurants Take Advantage of You

The views and opinions expressed in Bob’s Blog are solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of the CAC Office on Aging or its staff. Posted 02-28-2023

There have been massive changes in technology during our lifetime.

Computers have gone from these monstrous machines businesses had to store in special, climate controlled, water proof rooms to desktops, then laptops, then notebooks and now smartphones.

There is more computing power in most smartphones than the original desktops and many of those monstrous machines businesses had.

People who grew up while all this was occurring learned how to use it. Unfortunately, that was not the case for many of us older people. Too many are not comfortable using today’s technology and are at a loss when we have to.

Advances in technology are still occurring very quickly. All aspects of our lives are being affected. This is at your and my expense and those older.

Self-Check-Out Lanes in Grocery Stores, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target and Costco

In the last several years, we have seen changes in grocery stores and stores like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target and Costco. All have introduced self-checkout lanes. Initially there were only a few. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more have been added.

At the Walmart where I shop, I have been surprised at how many there are. There are rows of them. In fact, it’s very difficult to find a cashier.

There are less at Kroger than at Walmart. However, the number has expanded.

Self-Ordering Kiosks at Fast Food Restaurants and Coffee Shops

We have also seen self-ordering kiosks at coffee shops and fast-food restaurants. They’re also creeping into full-service restaurants.

One of the first places I saw these were at Panera locations when I lived in Illinois. That was over 10 years ago. One morning I walked into a Panera about a mile from where I lived. It seemed like 4 or 5 kiosks were installed overnight.

At that time most customers still preferred to wait in line and order from an employee at a cash register. No one used the kiosks.

The same was true at other Paneras in the area,

I moved to Knoxville in 2016 and quickly started going to the Panera locations here. There were kiosks in each. Here too, they were not used frequently.

Technology in Full-Service Restaurants

At many of the full-service restaurants, machines started appearing on the tables. However, severs still took orders. Most customers didn’t use the machines and servers did not encourage them to do so.

Then the Covid pandemic hit. Everything came to a halt. People weren’t going out. Some restaurants closed. Others reduced their staffs.

Full-service restaurants stopped giving patrons regular menus. Many gave them photocopied sheets showing the meals they were offering that day.

Some even had their menus online. They gave patrons a QR code which patrons scanned with their smart phones to bring up the menu. When they decided what they wanted, they told their servers.

Most restaurants now have patrons use the machines on the table to pay for their meals if they pay with a credit card. In other restaurants, the servers bring out hand help devices for patrons with credit cards.

The End of the Covid-19 Epidemic Supposedly Created an Employee Shortage

For all intents and purposes, the Covid-19 pandemic was over by late 2022. Most businesses were back to normal with one exception. There was a shortage of employees. Many raised wages to compete.

It appears some places may have decided to take a different route and use the employee shortage as an excuse. Restaurants may not have deliberately hired the employees they needed. Instead, they decided to force patrons to use the self-ordering kiosks or the machines on their tables.

Panera may be guilty of this. Suddenly, I started seeing signs at cash registers saying

Due to Staffing Shortages
Cash Registers Are Closed.
Please Use the Kiosks.

At some, these signs were up all day. At others, it was only up in the afternoons.

The question that comes up is simple . . .

. . . Is There a True Staffing Shortage or Did the Location Just Reduce Their Staff?

At a coffee shop like Panera, most employees are not looking to make a career out of it. They are short term.

It’s an ideal place for high school or college students to make some extra money. They can work when they have time.

It’s also an ideal place for older people. They can work part-time and supplement their incomes.

There are no shortages of high school and college students and older people looking for work.

Why would a company like Panera put up a sign saying due to staffing shortages, their cash registers are closed and customers have to use kiosks? Could it be their desire to increase their profits?

If you do a search on the internet, you will find that the companies that manufacture these self-ordering kiosks promote them by saying:

• They increase the number of individual sales.

• They cut down on the time a customer has to wait for service.

• The customers’ orders are more accurate.

• They reduce the staff required by the business.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

• Most people especially older ones don’t like to use self-ordering kiosks. That’s why they are willing to wait in-line. In addition, an employee at a cash register can increase a sale by asking if the customer wants anything in addition to what they’re ordering. Do you recall when the McDonald’s employees routinely asked if you wanted fries with your order?

• Most people still do not know how to order on the kiosks. Lines at the kiosks tend to be longer because it takes longer for a person to complete an order.

• Frequently orders are less accurate because the person ordering at the kiosk misses something they wanted. They didn’t see it or couldn’t figure out how to get it.

• Self-ordering kiosks require the patron to use a credit card. They don’t accept cash. Many older people like to pay with cash.

• They do reduce the staff required. Most probably, they also reduce business because customers get frustrated using them and will go someplace else where they can have a live person take their order.

Who Are Most Adversely Affected by These Self-ordering Kiosks?

I would suggest to you – older people. In fact, companies which have them are bordering on discriminating against them.

Why would I say that?

 As they age, they have poorer eyesight. They’re not as agile as they were. Some also have difficulty hearing.

 Older people also have not kept up with the advances in technology. Many still don’t know how to use computers. Some still don’t have smart phones.

 They have difficulty reading small print on the screens and pressing the right buttons on keyboards or screens.

 Many prefer to use cash. They don’t have or don’t carry credit cards. They have also been told they should be careful when using credit cards because their credit card numbers and their identities can be stolen.

These companies don’t take any of this into consideration

The Change at My Local Panera

I normally visit my local Panera most afternoons. That was the first place I saw a sign saying the cash registers were closed due to staffing shortages and requiring patrons to use the kiosks.

The signs were up only during the afternoon. Most of the patrons in the afternoons were older people our age. Many of these never used a kiosk before and had trouble ordering.

There were long lines at each kiosk.

Every several weeks Panera sends a survey out to its frequent patrons asking how the service was. On one of those, I commented that during any afternoon, most of the patrons were older people who had trouble using the kiosks.

It seemed to me the location was losing business because of the frustration these people had ordering. I suggested they either have an employee stand at the kiosks and help older people with their orders or staff the cash registers.

Within a short time, they had an employee helping patrons at the Kiosks. The employee would show the patrons how to place the order. However, the patrons had to do it themselves. The patrons still had difficulty and the lines were still long.

In several weeks, this location reopened the cash registers.

I doubt other locations of Panera did this. They still are forcing people to use the self-ordering kiosks and hurting the older ones.

What Does the Future Hold?

We are going to see this happen at more and more places like Panera.

Full-service restaurants will do this too. In addition to paying through the machines on the tables, patrons are going to have to order their meals from them. Eventually food will be delivered by robots. Servers will be eliminated altogether.

Grocery stores and stores like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target and Costco are going to force more and more customers to use the self-checkout lanes. There are going to be very few cashiers.

Let’s Stand Up Against This

You may say there is no way to prevent this. I would suggest there is. We can let the executives and management of these businesses know they are discriminating and hurting older people like us. If they don’t start to take us into consideration, we will go elsewhere.

One of the best ways to do this is to write a letter of complaint to the president of the fast food places and restaurants expressing your concern. You can normally find their names and addresses by doing a search on Google.

You can also write letters to the presidents of Grocery Stores, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target and Costco.

You can also contact your local elected officials and your state representative and senator.

Let Me tell You About Megan Cotter

Megan Cotter was frustrated by having to use the self-checkout at Walmart. Megan just happens to be a state representative in Connecticut. She found two state senators who also were frustrated.

In January of 2023 all three introduced a bill in the Rhode Island assembly which would require two things:

• No store could have more than 8 self-checkout lanes open at one time.

• A store would have to give any customer a 10% discount if they had to scan 10 or more items at self-checkout.

Megan realizes this bill may not become law as written. Almost immediately lobbyists joined forces to try to prevent its passage.

We Can Do It

To protect ourselves and the older people like us we need to take action.

Write letters. Contact your elected officials.

Don’t let these places take advantage of us!!!!!!


If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, I would love to know them. Please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is