There’s something about KFC in China which makes top tech brands want to partner with it.

Earlier this year, Baidu partnered with the fast food chain to create the first smart restaurant in Beijing.

This included using facial recognition software to help customers make decisions on what food to order, using their age, gender and facial expression to speed up the process.

Now, it’s Baidu’s competitor Alibaba’s time to debut some new tech in KFC. The company’s Ant Financial affiliate is trying out a so-called smile to pay service in the restaurant, in Hangzhou.

As long as customers are signed up to the Alipay app, the company’s digital payments app, and have enabled facial recognition, they will be able to pay for their chicken using a smile.

Screens in the restaurant have 3D cameras to scan customer faces for verification, including a phone number verification option.

Facial recognition payments are growing

Alibaba’s chief executive Jack Ma debuted Alipay’s facial recognition payment technology way back in 2015 at the Cebit trade fair in Germany.

Since then, other companies have been exploring how facial recognition can be used.

For example, Baidu are developing a system which would allow people to pick up rail tickets by showing their face, according to MIT’s Technology Review.

As well, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 smartphone released earlier this year uses facial recognition technology that can be used to make payments through Samsung Pay, the company’s mobile wallet.

 Why KFC?

According to research firm Marketline, KFC has suffered from poor performance in the Chinese market over the past couple of years.

It said:

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With a significant share in the Chinese market, KFC’s parent owner, Yum, has some important decisions to make in order to build back growth for the franchises once again.

Speaking of Yum, Ant Financial has a $50m stake in the Chinese operation of the global fast food empire. When the investment was announced, Yum China’s chief executive Micky Pant, said:

We expect Ant Financial can provide further unique insights to help us better connect to consumers through mobile technology.

It looks like the smile to pay technology is the first step in this direction.