What would the payback period be for a robotic arm used by McDonald’s for food preparation?

Photo of a food prep area at McDonald's

Source: Wendy Tietz

A variety of robots were featured at the 2016 National Restaurant Show that could be used for a variety of tasks in restaurants. These robots are being introduced at the same time that we are experiencing an on-going debate in the U.S. about the merits of a national minimum wage of $15 per hour for every worker. A former McDonald’s USA CEO, Ed Rensi, recently said that purchasing a $35,000 robotic arm would be cheaper than paying fast food workers $15 per hour for food preparation tasks like bagging French fries.

For this hypothetical example, let’s make the following assumptions:

a. For the cost of the hourly workers, use a total wage rate of $18 per hour to reflect payroll taxes (payroll taxes can add 15% or more to the hourly wage rate.)
b. Assume that freight and installation for the robot’s initial placement in a McDonald’s restaurant will be a one-time cost of $5,000.
c. The robot will require periodic service.  Assume an annual service contract is required that costs 10% of the original cost plus installation of the robot per year.
d. Assume that the robot will replace 10 employee hours per day, 360 days per year (the robot will not, at least initially, be as versatile as a person and cannot fully eliminate all food prep workers at this point.)
e. Electricity and supplies consumed by the robot will be assumed to be $1,500 per year.


  1. What would the payback period be on a McDonald’s robot used for food preparation?
  2. What qualitative factors would McDonald’s need to consider when deciding whether to purchase robots to replace some of its food preparation workers?
  3. Given the payback period, would net present value (NPV) or internal rate of return (IRR) be likely to be useful tools for analyzing this decision? Support your response.

Instructor Resources

These resources are provided to give the instructor flexibility for use of Accounting in the Headlines articles in the classroom. The blog posting itself can be assigned via a link to this site OR by distributing the student handout below. Alternatively, the PowerPoint file below contains a bullet point overview of the article and the discussion questions.

  • Student handout (pdf) (word) (contains entire blog posting + discussion questions)
  • PowerPoint file (brief article overview + discussion questions)

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

About Dr. Wendy Tietz, CPA, CMA, CSCA, CGMA

Dr. Wendy Tietz is a professor of accounting at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, USA. She is also a textbook author with Pearson Education.

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