Jack in the Box CEO, Leonard Comma, made news this week when he said “it just made sense” for his fast-food chain to consider switching from human cashiers to machines. To be sure, there are big societal implications if every restaurant made such a shift, but what if automated kiosks provide a better customer experience?
That’s a belief driving the startup Bite, which creates facial recognition kiosks for quick service restaurants (QSRs). Using a combination of iPads, proprietary software and machine learning, Bite’s tablet kiosks can recognize your face to unlock loyalty programs, bring up food preferences and provide opportunities for restaurants to upsell.
“We think facial recognition can offer a better experience than a cashier who doesn’t know your name or your preferences,” said Steve Truong, Co-Founder and Head of Product for Bite. For customers, this means having food history and preferences automatically presented onscreen for faster, more efficient ordering. This efficiency can also translate into more throughput for the restaurant.
Additionally, Bite’s machine learning develops an understanding of a particular customer’s habits over time and can rearrange the restaurant’s menu accordingly. For example, vegetarians will be presented with vegetarian items first, without having to scroll through pages of options they can’t eat.
The use of facial recognition in QSRs is a growing trend. A recent study from Oracle suggests that both consumers and restaurants are on-board with the idea, and restaurants like CaliBurger, UFood Grill and Malibu Poke are all rolling out facial recognition kiosks for faster ordering.
Based in Toronto and New York City, Bite actually started as a digital-menu company. Using tablets, it created media-rich interactive menus for restaurants to replace paper ones. The company soon learned it couldn’t scale that business as fast as it wanted to. Seeing that automated ordering kiosks in restaurants were basically interactive menus, and that facial recognition was becoming more available and accessible, Bite pivoted into this new direction a year ago.
Truong says that Bite’s solution stands apart from others in the market because it’s facial recognition is fast and doesn’t require much of the user. Additionally, the Bite system can easily be customized to plug into whatever point-of-sale payment and printing system a restaurant is already using.
When asked about the privacy and security concerns with using facial recognition, Truong says that those issues are top of mind for the company. Bite takes a “lot of care” when explaining and obtaining the opt-in consent from customers: All data is encrypted, in transit and at rest. Bite also holds the data, so restaurants only have access to broad statistics, not granular bits of information.
Right now, Bite has just three full employees, is bootstrapped and graduated from the Food-X accelerator program last year. Truong says the company has about a dozen kiosks in pilot programs, with bigger clients rolling out this year, but declined to offer specifics.
If the point of a quick-service restaurant is to be, well, quick, then using automated facial-recognition kiosks as cashiers just make sense.