At an Outback Steakhouse Franchise, Surveillance Blooms

As casual dining chains have declined in popularity, many have experimented with surveillance technology designed to maximize employee efficiency and performance. Earlier this week, one Outback Steakhouse franchise announced it would begin testing such a tool, a computer vision program called Presto Vision, at a single outpost in the Portland, Oregon area. Your Bloomin' Onion now comes with a side of Big Brother.According to Presto CEO Rajat Suri, Presto Vision takes advantage of preexisting surveillance cameras that many restaurants already have installed. The system uses machine learning to analyze footage of restaurant staff at work and interacting with guests. It aims to track metrics like how often a server tends to their tables or how long it takes for food to come out. At the end of a shift, managers receive an email of the compiled statistics, which they can then use to identify problems and infer whether servers, hostesses, and kitchen staff are adequately doing their jobs.
“It’s not that different from a Fitbit or something like that,” says Suri. “It’s basically the same, we would just present the metrics to the managers after the shift.” Presto says it's testing the technology at multiple restaurants across the country, but declined to name any other than Outback.The Outback Steakhouse pilot will use Presto Vision specifically to analyze footage from the lobby of a franchise operated by Evergreen Restaurant Group, which manages nearly 40 Outback Steakhouse locations across the United States. It will monitor factors like how crowded the lobby is and how many customers decide to leave rather than wait for a table. Suri says Presto Vision could be used not only to evaluate employee performance after the fact, but also course-correct in the moment. For instance, managers could be sent text messages when the number of people waiting for a table reaches a certain threshold.
For now, workers on the ground don't know much about how the technology will be used. "I don't know anything about it," one worker at the Portland Outback location said over the phone. "We have zero interaction with that. I'm pretty sure that's just still in the developmental phase."

Courtesy of Presto
Presto Vision's software doesn't identify individual diners and doesn't currently employ technology like facial recognition. “We do not collect any personal information and the video is deleted within three days of collection,” Jeff Jones, the president and CEO of Evergreen Restaurant Group, said in an email. But even if their data is anonymized, consumers may be unnerved to learn that an algorithm is monitoring their night out.

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