One of the few irritating things about pubs is when somebody gets served ahead of you when you know you’ve been waiting longer. On occasion I’ve been so incensed by the injustice I’ve left the premises and taken my business elsewhere.
 
Therefore when I heard London-based company DataSparQ had developed AI Bar, facial recognition software that tracks faces and places people in a “dynamically intelligent queue”, I hailed the move as a sensible step forward.
 

DataSpar’s AI bar

 
Needless to say my view wasn’t universally popular. Many people, including certain vocal groups, branded it yet another example of a growing invasion of public privacy through CCTV and other digital technology. 
 
It’s clear facial recognition software has many potential benefits that go way beyond queue control at bars. However, there are just as many downsides with some claiming it will turn the UK into a police state. This is sensitive territory and businesses will have to navigate it with extreme care.
 
One way to take advantage of this technology is to take the “facial” part out of the equation and replace it with “licence plate”, for example. Such is the difference in people’s minds between the aspects, McDonald’s has felt sufficiently comfortable to say it might look to use licence plate recognition (LPR) software at its drive-thrus.
 
The idea behind the move would be to create an identifier for the customer or drivers from one household so McDonald’s could use data such as previous purchases to personalise that customer’s experience.
 
For the leisure and hospitality industry, recognition software – whether facial or licence plate – has the potential to deliver incredibly tailored experiences to customers in a way card-based loyalty programmes have never been able to provide.
 
Any LPR solution McDonald’s introduces would be integrated into the new digital menu boards it is rolling out at its drive-thrus, initially in the US. The boards are powered by technology from artificial intelligence company Dynamic Yield, which McDonald’s acquired for $300m earlier this year. That move has enabled McDonald’s to shift from using static menus to ones that respond via algorithms to changes in weather, nearby traffic levels, time of day, and popular food choices in a specific location.
 
The system becomes increasingly smarter the more customers interact with it. For example, if a queue is moving slowly the menu can change to prioritise products that can be prepared quicker to speed things up. Conversely, it can push more complex dishes during quieter times. Hot drinks can be upsold on cold days, ice cream on hot ones.
 
Eventually the technology could be used to assist decision-making in the supply chain, be integrated into in-store kiosks, and help with kitchen management. Staffing and planning operations are another area that could benefit from dynamic menus at busy times. When LPR is linked into this clever bit of AI kit, McDonald’s will also be able to throw a customer’s ordering history into the algorithms to further personalise the experience.
 
Dynamic menu boards and the intelligent tailoring that can be achieved through recognition software has so much potential, McDonald’s clearly won’t have the field to itself. KFC has started exploring AI-powered digital menu boards for its drive-thrus to help it automate order-taking and upsell menu items.
 

KFC: About to start using AI

 
I would be surprised if that’s all KFC is planning because such technologies are going to have a massive impact on foodservice around the world because they have myriad applications. Consumers are likely to embrace such solutions because they ultimately improve their experience – as long as they aren’t facially recognised that is.
 

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.