You Can Now Pay with Your Face at This Burger Chain

CaliBurger unveiled facial recognition kiosks at its Pasadena location on Tuesday

Cali Burger
Photo: Courtesy of Cali Group

Apple Pay is so 2016. Paying with your face is the future. And now you can do it the next time you want a burger.

Global fast-casual chain CaliBurger just unveiled facial recognition kiosks at its Pasadena store today, and if successful, it could roll it out to their 40+ stores worldwide. Here's how it works: You come into the store and sign up for their loyalty program at a large screen kiosk. You enter in your email address, like usual. At the same time, a built-in camera at the kiosk records your visual likeness, and links it to your email information as well as your credit card information (which you also enter), which it securely stores.

On your following visit you can go up to the kiosk and order without having to type in your email, swipe your phone or even have your wallet on you. You don’t need to speak to anyone in the process if you don’t want to—it’s a fully automated experience. You’ll get an email receipt of your purchase, for added security confirmation.

Apparently, facial recognition technology has been around for years, even though Apple’s gotten credit for making it visible. It was on Samsung phones circa 2012, for example, so facial recognition in and of itself isn’t necessarily news. But rolling it out in a retail environment? That’s pretty new, according to John Miller: he’s the chairman and CEO of Cali Group, the holding company which owns CaliBurger.

He’s been overseeing the soft roll-out of this technology over the past few weeks at CaliBurger’s Pasadena location, and has observed that a majority of customers prefer to order on an automated POS (point of sale) system versus speaking with an employee. When it comes to using facial recognition technology rather than just ordering on an automated POS, Miller observes that of the dozen different customers he’s spoken with, half prefer facial recognition.

It should also be said that automated kiosks aren’t necessarily new either—in 2017, Wendy’s planned to install 1,000 and McDonald’s planned to introduce 2,500, setting an additional rollout target of 14,000 by 2020. Even Shake Shack got on board. None of them, it seems, have yet debuted facial recognition technology.

“In the future, we’re experimenting with emotional sentiment detection, and being able to have a really customized experience,” Miller says. “It might be something where [the AI] says, ‘You’ve had a long day, how about a spiked milkshake?’” That’s a long ways off, according to Miller—but an immediate takeaway is predictive ordering.

If you’re a loyalty member at Caliburger, for example—which you have to be to use the facial recognition technology—it’ll remember your past recent orders, in theory making a more frictionless experience (with fewer clicks) the next time you’re in. The real draw, however, is just the convenience of not having to whip out your wallet or phone to order.

Miller stresses that this is purely an opt-in technology, and you can still order at the counter with an employee if you want to. “There are some customers that love it, they think it’s really cool, and have no concerns about privacy,” he says. “These are younger people that have grown up in the digital age. And there are other people that don’t like it at all.”

Whichever group you fall into, Miller believes that kiosks in fast food—as well as facial recognition technology—is the way of the future. He points out that anytime you go into a retail environment, you’re likely on camera, so being recorded isn’t new. To further allay privacy concerns, the facial recognition technology (which CaliGroup partnered with a company called NEC to develop) is also accurate enough to distinguish between a pair of twins, or a picture of a face versus an actual face. According to a statement put out by CaliBurger, “In 2017, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology ranked NEC’s platform the most accurate in the world for one-to-many searching.”

Cali Group is helping create the infrastructure around facial recognition technology to integrate with credit cards and banks, and hopes to roll it out beyond CaliBurger into other retail spaces. “It can be this universal platform if you’re enrolled in the face-based payment system, that’s used everywhere,” Miller says. “So you could walk into a clothing store and pay with your face, and then do the same at Caliburger,” he says.

“Apple’s paving the way for that. And Caliburger hopefully is too,” he says.

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