Reinventing Restaurant Experiences Through Facial Recognition

By: Dr. Jau Huang, Chairman and CEO, CyberLink– Maker of FaceMe® facial recognition engine

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is wondering what “regular life” will look like once cities have all reopened and people begin to resume some of their favorite activities like traveling and eating out. People across the nation are voicing eagerness to resume their social activities, and comfortably and confidently return to their favorite bars and restaurants.

The dining experience of yesterday, however, with packed houses and quickly rotating tables is looking like less and less of a possibility moving forward. To safely conduct business in this cherished industry, we’ll need to look to new tools and technologies to help adapt to our “new normal” while continuing to provide and exceed the levels of service that keep customers coming back.

Luckily, biometric technology, like facial recognition, offers benefits that go way beyond helping us enhance dine-in safety. It can empower more personalized diner experiences, transform some of the least pleasurable elements of eating out (like paying the check), and help increase patron loyalty. Facial recognition technology can also play a significant part in the way restaurants are reinventing fast-food dining around curbside order and pickup, drive-through, interactive kiosks, loyalty programs and more.

Let’s walk through some of the most transformative technological use cases for restaurants of tomorrow.

Contactless payments
One of the many repercussions of the current pandemic is that people are reconsidering the way they handle cash and credit cards and the options available for making payments when eating out or shopping. Not only is paying one of the least sanitary parts of the dining experience, but it’s also usually the least enjoyable for diners.

Facial recognition technology, when integrated into the payment process, can not only lessen the amount of physical contact and germ-spreading, but also makes the experience more efficient by instantly scanning a guest’s face for verification and payment.

Cash and credit card holding diners are often stalled in the check-out process, awaiting change or running through the multi-step credit card machine requests for pins and confirmations. Payment enabled through facial recognition empowers a touchless, swift and enjoyable checkout experience. And facial recognition is arguably the safest identity check technology. It can dramatically reduce the risk of payment card fraud.

Determining proximity and spatial capacity
In the wake of COVID-19 and at the behest of agencies like the FDA, customers and restaurant employees are now hyper-aware of staying within the 6-foot guidelines of social distancing. However, in most cities, restaurants still haven’t reopened to full capacity and haven’t tested the waters on trying to keep eager diners physically spaced on a busy night.

In this case, facial recognition technology can act as a social-distancing watchdog-identifying where each person in the room is and what proximity they have to other diners and restaurant staff. This capability helps restaurant employees gauge and control the capacity of spaces, while also ensuring diners and staff can stay safe while still enjoying a normal restaurant experience.

In fast casual restaurants like Chipotle, where people are often standing in long lines in close proximity to others to order their food, this technology can enable queue and capacity control more efficiently without sacrificing a full staff member to line management duty.

Customer loyalty programs & personalized dining experiences
In recent years, personalized experiences have skyrocketed in popularity. Consumers value having personal experiences with their favorite waiters, baristas, bartenders and more, and expect to be treated uniquely and not just as another guest.

Facial recognition technology is an impactful tool creating personalized dining experiences that reward loyal customers and keep first-time guests coming back. Opted-in diners can instantly be recognized as VIPs upon entering a restaurant and enjoy the extra perks and service. Due to its ability to identify broad emotional responses, the same facial recognition technology that empowers contactless payments, can also identify the weekly regular who prefers his burger extremely rare, without lettuce or tomato and ensure his order is always made to preference. It can provide chefs detailed and valuable insights into which menu items guests are most enjoying by aggregating and anonymizing emotional responses of diners consuming certain dishes.

Facial recognition can contribute to the transformation of fast-food restaurants
The transformation of fast-food restaurants started way before COVID-19 hit the world, but the pandemic is a catalyst to major changes which, in many ways, can be enabled with facial recognition technologies.

First, online orders are often connected to loyalty programs. Over 60% of Starbucks customers use their mobile app for a number of tasks such as ordering, paying or collecting loyalty perks. With this solution, program members login to the app and use QR code technology to identify themselves at the cash register. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead they were identified through facial recognition the moment they walk in the coffee shop or drive to the order window? No need to remember a password and login to an app. Just show-up, enjoy a VIP treatment, and pick up the order.

Several fast-food chains are rolling out self-service kiosks to reduce lines at the counter. With COVID-19, kiosks are now making their way at the curb, eliminating the need to walk inside. Adding facial recognition technology can turn these kiosks into a truly interactive experience by recognizing loyalty program members and presenting them with a personalized menu based on their past orders. Facial recognition technology can also streamline payment process through facial ID. Even for customers who aren’t loyalty program members, facial recognition can help identify the gender, age and mood of a customer as soon as they approach the kiosks, personalizing the menu in a predictive way. Customers who ordered online can be instantly greeted and handed their meal upon arrival. For customers who still come to the counter, digital signs showing menus and offers can be adjusted dynamically based on real-time demographic information identified through facial recognition technology.

The same facial recognition enabled technologies can be applied to the increasingly popular drive-through lines. From loyalty program member recognition, to personalized offerings and perks, contactless payment through face ID and meal pick-up.

Facial recognition is also for staff
This technology’s flexibility can add many benefits for employees and management. It can control access to the staff entrance and instantly record time and attendance. It can also monitor access to restricted areas such as food and wine storage, freezer rooms and management office. And adding facial recognition to the ordering terminals can ensure instantaneous and accurate login for serving staff.

In a pandemic, advanced technologies like FaceMe® can be installed to the staff entrance to perform temperature and mask wearing check, while also enabling highly precise employee identification even when a facial mask is worn. Even beyond a pandemic, cameras placed in food preparation and other areas where a mask is required can easily be connected to ensure compliance.

Technology is the key to safer, and smarter restaurants of tomorrow
With the outbreak of COVID-19, things are bound to change moving forward, including the way we eat out, and how we experience dining. Restaurants of the future can be empowered through technology like facial recognition to maintain safer, more efficient and enjoyable dining experiences for guests and staff. Facial recognition technologies give us the opportunity to reinvent old processes and come back stronger than we were before. A software development kit (SDK) can be embedded in a number of AIoT solutions such as health kiosks, digital signage, interactive kiosks and security systems. It also comes as 2 software options that can be installed on a PC or workstation and connected to cameras to easily perform a number of use cases highlighted in this article.

For a full overview of facial recognition, how it works and how it can be deployed, read Edge-based Facial Recognition – The Ultimate Guide.