How will restaurants ever make the idea of “dining out” safe enough for customers to return in large numbers? That’s the $273 billion question.

Spreading out tables, disinfecting, and proper use of PPE by staff are obvious. But also vital to a safe return is reducing the number of items and surfaces customers have to touch, particularly those surfaces also touched by others. Trust and peace-of-mind will be paramount.

In this fight—and it is a fight—to restore confidence, 3D camera technology is already playing a big role.

Kiosk Improvements

From the moment customers place their orders, they want to refrain from touching any common surfaces. Yet many quick-service restaurant chains have invested in touchscreen kiosks. How does a restaurant eliminate the need to touch a touchscreen?

Stores are accomplishing this by upgrading their kiosks with 3D cameras that make it possible to order and pay without touch. Around the world and in thousands of locations, hundreds of millions of diners already pay for meals using facial recognition enabled by 3D cameras. Inexpensive and easy to install, 3D facial recognition is spoof-proof and incredibly reliable. It accurately identifies customers even with changes in facial hair, makeup, hair styles and colors, or headwear.

More accurate than fingerprints or any other form of biometric identification, 3D facial recognition not only speeds payment, but also gives restaurants options for instant loyalty program participation. It allows for faster repeats of past orders, and removes the need for credit card swipes or taps.

Ordering is easier and safer as well. 3D cameras can actually follow hand gestures as customers “air point” to the items they want, as presented on a screen or menu board. The technology enables customers to order one, two or more of any item, adding to their total order as quickly as they can gesture. Learning curves are small to non-existent.

Food/Drink Delivery

3D cameras are also an essential part of another innovation: autonomous mobile robots. Robots use 3D imaging to see and even identify their surroundings. They can move safely through dining rooms without disrupting human activity. No floor markings, dedicated pathways, or specialized programming is needed to integrate robots into normal front-of-house activity.

Despite being used mostly for after-hours cleaning and sanitizing, robots are expected to transform table delivery. Bars and pizza shops are already adopting these helpers. They are making the rounds, delivering food and drinks while delighting customers. Robots give patrons confidence that their order is safe and ready to consume.

Instant Customer Counts

Finally, 3D cameras help ensure that safety protocols are being followed in quick-serve establishments—an innovation that has marketable appeal to customers. 3D cameras can be equipped with algorithms that count, track, and log not only the number of humans in a room, but their position and grouping as well. Compared with 2D methods, 3D can become more privacy because it can only show depth information if needed

When stationed high in a ceiling, a 3D camera can track occupancy, flow, and clustering. It can automatically warn managers when social distancing measures are not being followed. Even more, it can provide data for subsequent analysis to uncover better ways to keep large numbers of people from congregating in the establishment.

Essential Technology

In this immensely challenging time, 3D technology will remake modern restaurants. 3D facial recognition can be used to accurately identify employees for timeclock check-ins and checkouts. It is relatively inexpensive, easy to install or retrofit, and quickly adapts to existing systems. Perhaps best of all, it’s easy for banks to justify investment in 3D cameras as an approved use of CARES money.

3D cameras are enabling stores to reopen safely. Once open, staff can be more productive and operators will be able do more with less, while experiencing a quicker return to profitability. Food and beverage will always be at the heart of the QSR industry—but in the quest to put customers at ease, 3D cameras will be an essential part of ensuring a safe and happy dining experience.

David Chen is co-founder and director of engineering at Orbbec 3D Technology International, Inc., a manufacturer of 3D cameras.

Outside Insights, Story, Technology