Find Us

Who's next? Bar uses facial recognition to stop queue jumpers

Could technology ease the frustration of getting served at a busy bar?
Could technology ease the frustration of getting served at a busy bar? Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Associated Press
Published on
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button
Copy/paste the article video embed link below:Copy to clipboardCopied

A bar in central London has installed new AI-powered facial recognition tech to help staff see who's next in line.


In the battle of getting served at the bar, could facial recognition technology be the answer to an age-old annoyance for drinkers?

A bar in central London has become the first in the world to install new AI-powered facial recognition tech to help staff see who's next in line.

Developed by British AI firm DataSparQ, the system identifies people waiting at the bar, displays their place in the queue and shows their estimated wait time.

DataSparQ announced it had developed the "AI Bar" tech back in July, this is its first installation.

"There's a big screen behind the bar, the webcam captures footage of everyone coming to queue behind a bar, based on a first come, first serve basis," explains DataSparQ managing director John Wyllie.

"Those who've been waiting first get a number above your head to say you're number one in the queue. Those who've been waiting least time are at the back of the queue."

The aim is to eliminate queue jumping and make ordering drinks faster, fairer and less intimidating.

The AI system also assists ID checks, by suggesting if a customer looks under 25-years-old.

An additional "FaceTab" feature is being developed, which will let customers link their bar tab to their face, so no-one else can put drinks on their tab.

"Some people probably enjoy playing the game, and if they're good at it and are able to barge their way to the front of the queue this probably is not for them," says Wyllie.

"But I think there are a lot of people who are too shy or too small or just don't catch the attention of the bartender's eye, for them it just brings some extra fairness."

Sammy Forway, owner of The Underdog, near London Bridge, hopes the tech will help bar staff be more efficient.

The data generated, including orders per-hour and average wait time, can also help the bar improve its service.

"We're very good at queuing in the UK, but certainly not when are getting a drink," says Forway.

"So, everyone wants to come, get served first. So, although our team's trained well, if they're turning round and serving, it's difficult for them to see exactly who's next. So, this technology, it's been helping them, be exact on who's at the bar and who's next in line to be served."


It might be good news for those who struggle to get served in busy bars, but privacy campaigners warn it "trivialises a dangerous surveillance technology."

"It's not solving a problem that desperately needs to be solved at all, there's no obvious need for it. And yet people just going to have a drink are going to be biometrically analysed, scanned, have their face up on a screen, it's just really quite intrusive stuff," says Silkie Carlo, director of British civil liberties campaign organisation Big Brother Watch.

"And around the rest of the world, we're seeing that facial recognition is being used as quite an oppressive surveillance technology, so what we don't want to see is it sort of creeping into social life in the UK."

Wyllie says bar visitors shouldn't be worried about their privacy - data collected by the webcam isn't stored, snap-shot thumbnail images of faces are deleted at the end of each session.


The data doesn't leave the venue. It's processed internally by the AI device.

"We're being very transparent around how we're using your face for this purpose," says Wyllie.

"There's no hidden cameras, there's no data being stored in any permanent way.

"And so, we're really keen to understand what the public feel is appropriate and what level of consent and permission is required to allow us to do this."


The Underdog hopes to use the technology at peak times. But, due to GDPR standards, they must obtain explicit consent from everyone entering the venue in order to use the tech, so currently it is only used for special events when consent has been obtained.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

British teen receives world's first epilepsy device implant

UK AI Safety Summit: Here’s what to expect and who is attending

European elections: What do candidates promise on equal opportunities in tech