Of course China’s first ‘smart restaurant’ is a KFC

By Oliver Smith 11 January 2017

Get ready to be greeted by a computer.

What is it about fast-food chicken group KFC that makes it just so tech-savvy?

Whether it’s building smartphone-charging batteries or bluetooth keyboards into its chicken buckets, or the company’s excellent proactive response when it was hacked last year, KFC seems to be leagues ahead of its rivals.

Today is no different as the finger lickin’ chicken group has partnered with China’s search engine giant Baidu (think China’s version of Google) to create the country’s first ‘smart restaurant’.

KFC's Battery Bucket.

A smart KFC

What is a ‘smart’ KFC like?

When you walk in to KFC in Beijing you’ll be greeted, not by a human being, but by an artificial intelligence system that will use facial-recognition to recognise who you are.

Say you’re a male customer in your 20s, Baidu says you might be recommended “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and coke”, a female customer in her 50s instead would get a recommendation of “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast”.

It’s not clear exactly where these suggestions are coming from – from KFC’s mountain of customer data we assume? – but they can be easily overruled if you’re not keen.

One Guardian reporter found KFC’s facial recognition to be fairly accurate in her experience, recognising her gender and only getting her age a decade off.

Once you’ve picked what you want, it works just like any other self-ordering kiosk (like those spotted in some McDonalds in the UK) just pay and collect your meal from the counter.

McDonald's Easy Order terminal. Photo from Flickr/Thinkretail.

The future

From drive-throughs to self-service checkouts, fast-food restaurants are always looking for ways of speeding up their service.

If KFC and Baidu can successfully nail facial-recognition and combine it with food suggestions that lead to quicker customer decisions, that’s got to be a good thing.