Fast-food chains might use license plate scanners to expedite orders


According to the Los Angeles Times, America’s fast-food providers are considering deploying license plate scanners to expedite their operations. The publication reports that corporations like McDonald’s are interested in using the technology to make the ordering process faster and potentially more lucrative.

The newspaper spoke to one firm that might popularize drive-thru vehicle recognition technology by 2021.

License Plate Recognition Benefits

Traditionally, law enforcement agencies and security companies have used license plate recognition technology to fight crime. However, the foodservice sector has begun utilizing the surveillance tool to remove a step from the checkout process.

In 2018, Starbucks Korea launched a license plate scanning program called My DT Pass in 11 stores. The system allowed consumers to link their license plate data with the franchise’s gift cards. So, by the time coffee lovers got to the pickup window, the system had already processed their orders.

Starbucks Korea found that My DT Pass cut 13 to 15 seconds off every drive-thru transaction. Furthermore, the corporation noted that its vehicle identification system reduced customer wait time by 10 percent.

License plate recognition startup 5Thru told the Los Angeles Times that its products could help fast-food corporations do more than speed up their lines. The firm’s artificial intelligence-enhanced system lets drivers make voice orders before they arrive at a restaurant.

Once a customer places an order, the system sends it to the pickup location. It also provides staffers with an upsell suggestion based on the customer’s purchase history. When the driver arrives at the menu board, the program recognizes their vehicle, and a worker recommends a personalized add-on.

5Thru notes that its clients serve an average of 30 more drive-thru customers per day after implementing its products. The startup also told the newspaper that it expects to sign its first major services agreement at the end of 2020.

Privacy Concerns

Although license plate recognition technology has been around for years, it’s only now reaching the foodservice industry. Restaurant consultant Aaron Allen said that restaurants hadn’t implemented the technology because they feared consumers would associate it with dystopian fiction like George Orwell’s “1984.”

Indeed, civil liberties groups and legislators expressed outrage when they learned that a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol contractor had been secretly storing face and license plate recognition data.

Because of incidences like that, McDonald’s and other fast-food giants wisely avoided being linked with such a controversial technology. However, as biometric scanners have become commonplace in airports and Taylor Swift concerts, the industry has reconsidered its previous position.

Furthermore, the fast-food service sector is facing something of an existential crisis right now. A combination of rising labor costs, changing generational tastes, and oversaturation has caused a market contraction. As such, industry leaders are now desperate to find ways to edge out the competition.

Currently, the field’s most prominent players view license plate scanners and AI-enabled upselling as a possible way forward. Indeed, McDonald’s paid $300 million to acquire deep learning startup Dynamic Yields in March. Moreover, one of the firm’s key products is an app that uses vehicle recognition data to personalize menus for repeat customers.

Given the promising results of license plate recognition, the concept of “waiting in the drive-thru” will soon become anachronistic.