Customer facing recognition, which uses biometric technology can quickly and accurately recognize or verify a person’s identity and their emotional state, in just a few seconds based on their facial features. Originally pioneered for law enforcement and border security uses, facial recognition is now fast becoming an emerging technology, with major US-based corporations actively pursuing it in a wide range of verticals from energy to insurance, hospitality, banking, automotive and beyond. Not surprisingly facial recognition tech is also beginning to enter shopping and dining spaces, helping brands use customer purchasing histories with the aim of creating a better customer experience.

A recent pioneer is California fast food chain Cali Burger which is utilizing facial recognition technology at locations in Pasadena, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Using the technology, its patrons can quickly access their loyalty program account at a kiosk using facial recognition — allowing them to see what they’ve purchased previously, view personalized recommendations, and receive special discounts. KFC has tested similar programs in China since 2017, allowing customers to pay for a meal using a facial detection payment system provided by Chinese tech giant Alibaba. UFood Grill of Owings Mills, Maryland and BurgerFi, a Florida chain, is also using facial recognition technology to streamline ordering by remembering customers’ individual preferences and allow them to reorder previous meals. While candy maker Lolli & Pops is using facial recognition to personalize the customer experience for its VIP customers in a similar fashion.

However, though it is becoming popular from a business perspective, some observers consider the technology controversial from a civil liberties standpoint and privacy campaigners continuously criticize the application of some technologies, including facial recognition as overly invasive and poorly regulated. As an example, San Francisco recently banned the use of facial recognition for law enforcement purposes. Nevertheless, while some may deem the concept “a little creepy” or intrusive, public perception has shifted. Facial recognition is widely used in social media, such as Snapchat and Facebook tagging, McDonald’s has tested comparable technology that can recognize license-plate numbers, allowing the company to tailor a list of suggested purchases to a customer’s previous orders and some retail stores track shoppers’ movements, allowing companies to send texts and emails recommending products that customers lingered over but did not buy.

So, in reality, intrusive or not, it seems that time strapped customers have embraced consumerization, if not actually demand it and seek out personalized and convenient experiences. “Experience has shown that individuals are more than happy to surrender their data, so long as they are confident that it is going to be used in an intelligent way”, Egil Bergenlind, CEO DPOrganizer, data protection specialists. Not only that, as long as participation remains optional and its functions can co-exist with the technology’s more consumer-friendly uses, the technology doesn’t stand to generate any kind of civil liberties concerns that followed its rollout in public spaces in countries such as China and Russia. “…consumer loyalty and consumer experience … where privacy is not the cornerstone issue and consumers are opting into systems that allow (companies) to engage with them”, Peter Trepp, FaceFirst CEO.

While not every business will jump on this latest technology advancement band wagon straight away, for those that do, there are some serious benefits to be gained. Facial recognition can help speed the ordering process when customers who previously allowed their photos to be taken at an ordering kiosk make a return visit. Malibu Poke, a higher-end QSR establishment with Texas locations in Austin and Dallas has rolled out facial recognition capabilities at its self-serve kiosks. Owner Jon Alexis has said that their biometric system has proven to effectively build loyalty, retain customers and help them quickly reorder their favorite meals on return visits. Not only that but facial recognition is also great for order recommendations, helping to predict what customers want before they decide. “By storing previous orders and associating them with a particular guest, we can start drawing conclusions and recommend certain items…If we can glean that they are working off a reduced calorie menu or gluten-free menu, we can actually order things that are appropriate or highlight certain things that people are interested in.” Tommy Woycik, president Nextep Systems.

As technology continues to evolve, it continues to transform the traditional idea of hospitality in the restaurant industry. To stay at the forefront of the industry, restaurants must change with it. Conversely, there’s always going to be something new on the horizon so in the long run, it’s important that any technology your restaurant decides to invest in should be a benefit to you and your business, to improve efficiency for your staff and provide a better overall experience for your customers.