Once upon a time in the not so distant past, most considered ordering food via facial recognition either a gimmick that was either unrealistic or just creepy.
Times have changed, thanks in large part to technologies like the iPhone X, which you can unlock using your own mug. And while we’re some distance from facial recognition becoming a facet of everyday dining everywhere, there’s a growing number of restaurants now offering customers this option when it comes to ordering.
CaliBurger was the latest to join that group this week when it launched self-ordering kiosks at its Pasadena, California location. If customers like this move, the company said it plans to roll out kiosks to all 40 of its locations in the future.
It’s the quick-service restaurants like CaliBurger where facial-recognition ordering appears to be making the biggest impact. It’s not hard to understand why. Quick service got its name for a reason, and facial recognition can certainly speed up the order and payment process.
Just look at UFood Grill, who earlier this year debuted self-order kiosks in its Owings Mills, Maryland location. According to the restaurant, customers using the kiosks can order and pay in less than 10 seconds. Kiosks use facial recognition to remember customers’ orders for future visits; they’re powered by technology from Michigan-based Nextep.
Addressing the need for restaurants to increase speed, Nextep president Tommy Woycik recently said, “Imagine visiting your local drive-thru and ordering your favorite customized coffee drink with a quick glance at the camera.” Likewise, if you’re in China, you can pay for your next KFC order just by smiling at the camera.
While it’s not a quick-service restaurant, Dallas’ Malibu Poke opened this past November with the option to order via facial recognition already in place. Talking to the Dallas Observer, owner John Alexis referenced the new iPhone, saying that thanks to the phone, ordering via facial recognition is no longer gimmicky. He was also quick to point out that the system Malibu Poke uses actually prevents him or anyone on staff from accessing the scanned faces from customers: “I literally would not know how to find [a customer’s face] if I wanted to. If you want extra cucumbers, that’s between you and the machine.”
Data—who sees it, where it’s stored—is definitely one of the challenges that has to be addressed in order for facial recognition to become a more widely used way of ordering. (See this year’s lawsuit against Lettuce Entertain You, who owns the Wow Bao quick-service chains.) Just because, for example, Malibu Poke can’t access your facial scan doesn’t mean some ill-humored cyber criminal can’t.
Data will continue to be both a question and a challenge moving forward, but so far, it doesn’t appear to be raising too many concerns for businesses. Restaurants themselves are more likely to be occupied by things like increasing the speed of these kiosks and dealing with some of the reported glitches around lighting and camera angle—basically things that will impact the business’s bottom line today.