This KFC Uses Facial Recognition Technology to Tell You What to Order

A KFC in China thinks it can tell what you want by looking at your face.
January 13, 2017, 5:00am
Photo by Flickr user Steigerwald28

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES.

In the 1980s, everyone's favorite sitcom about day-drinking alcoholics had a theme song that made us all want to go to a bar where everybody knows your name. There's a lot to be said for restaurant staffers who know their regulars and their just-as-regular dinner orders too… as long as they're human.

A KFC restaurant in Beijing has become China's first-ever "smart restaurant," after installing a machine that makes (and remembers) menu recommendations by scanning each customer's face.


This artificial intelligence-enabled technology is the result of a partnership between KFC and Baidu, a company that, according to TechCrunch, is sometimes referred to as "the Google of China." When a customer stands in front of the machine, it analyzes their faces to determine gender, age, and mood and then uses that information to make meal suggestions. This could be potentially problematic on a number of levels, and not just because no one wants a robot to tell them that they look tired.

In a press release, Baidu said that the machine would tell a twentysomething male to order "a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and Coke for lunch," but a "female customer in her 50s" would be told to opt for "porridge [bubur] and soybean milk for breakfast," which sounds like a form of punishment.

"If the consumer visits the store again and takes a picture with the machine, it will be able to recognize his or her face and show the previous purchase history, remember the customer's dining habits, and help to place an order faster," Wu Zhongqin, the deputy director of the Institute of Deep Learning of Baidu Inc, told China Daily.

Some of the menu suggestions sound reasonably sexist in theory, but in practice, it could be even worse.  Guardian reporter Amy Hawkins tested it out for herself, and the system recognized that she was "female" and "beautiful," but it overestimated her age by a solid decade. When she returned a day later, it had forgotten her completely.

If customers aren't crazy about the suggestions it makes, they can scroll through a list of other possibilities, then collect their orders at the counter. When Hawkins visited the restaurant, the majority of customers opted to order from a real person. KFC and Baidu will have to work to present it as something other than a novelty, like getting a chicken-flavored fortune from a high-tech Zoltar machine, if it wants to follow through on its plans to expand this technology into 5,000 restaurants throughout China.

"Our innovations make use of the cutting-edge technologies and they will help to attract more young consumers who prefer fashionable new things," Zhao Li, the general manager of Beijing KFC, told China Daily. "The digitalization of the restaurant will also help to provide faster and easier services,"

Just keep in mind that those 'fashionable new things' might include your face being stored in some kind of database of KFC customers. Maybe it's better to stick with places that just know you by your drunk nickname.

MUNCHIES has reached out to KFC for additional comment but has not yet received a response.