Domino’s Is Using A.I. Surveillance to Manage Store Performance

The company’s ‘pizza checker’ makes sure your order is right, but also pinpoints low performing stores

When it comes to pizza, everyone wants the biggest portion of the pie, and few companies are as ruthless in their power grabs as Domino’s Pizza, which is using A.I. surveillance to critique employee job performance.

The multinational pizza chain has been rolling out its “DOM Pizza Checker” — a scanning device that looks straight out of Minority Report — to identify “bad pizzas” and stores with “poor customer outcomes” in Australia and New Zealand. This is according to a slide deck that Domino’s executives Don Meij and Nick Knight presented to shareholders in both countries this week. The deck is available on Domino’s website and was first reported on Thursday by iTnews, which perfectly described it as “the great pizza panopticon.”

The “DOM Pizza Checker,” which was advertised to customers earlier this year, monitors employee efforts through an overhead device equipped with machine learning algorithms and sophisticated sensors. First, it scans a pizza being made and matches it to an order on the kitchen display screen. The device then analyzes the pie and produces a grade “based on the cheese, border, and spread,” according to the deck. Poorly made pizzas are flagged by a “sound notification” that alerts the store to remake it. If the checker accepts the new pie, the customer is texted a photograph of the pizza before it gets boxed.

Domino’s insisted that DOM Pizza Checker is not a surveillance technology but rather a training tool.

Domino’s appears to have debuted the checker in July, and a spokesperson for the company told OneZero on the phone that all stores in Australia and New Zealand now feature the technology.

The deck notes that it could be used for “franchisee and operations team alignment,” with the device being incorporated into a cash bonus system. There will be “1:1 followups for stores falling behind peers,” it adds. In the future, Domino’s wants the scanner to differentiate crust types and to “display pizza checker scores as a live feed on the makeline to empower team members.”

Domino’s insisted that DOM Pizza Checker is not a surveillance technology but rather a training tool. Its spokesperson said there is no punishment for not using the device, though the executive’s slide deck suggested it would be used to pinpoint low-performing stores.

The pizza chain is not alone in embracing technology to drive sales and outpace competitors, and American customers are probably familiar with its infamous “Pizza Tracker” feature. A 2013 study correlated the use of anti-theft software in restaurants with an increase in revenue — not because it prevented workers from stealing, but because they felt pressured to sell more food and drinks knowing they were being monitored. McDonald’s has spent millions to acquire startups that specialize in A.I. voice systems for ordering, personalization for drive-thru menus, and mobile app development. In 2018, Pizza Hut bought the ordering provider QuikOrder, marking one of the largest acquisitions in its history. Some chains are even flirting with license plate scanners, like those used by cops, to identify frequent customers.

One of Domino’s slides nods to this trend, stating that “technology is increasingly expected.” The company is not necessarily charting new territory, but privacy experts warn that employers cannot be trusted to self-regulate when it comes to using these tools.

“Theoretically, it’s possible that any technology can do something beneficial for people,” said Randolph Lewis, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Under Surveillance: Being Watched in Modern America. “But I would think about the general pattern of how that technology has been utilized. I suspect it won’t be to ensure that workers have a more pleasant or sustainable day — just to squeak another 20% of productivity out of them.”

Bosses have tried to scientifically maximize workers’ output since the dawn of labor hierarchies, but now the tools are more dystopian. Throughout every industry, technology is used to intimidate employees and remove any expectation of privacy in the workplace. Most of us are being monitored in some way — through security cameras, shared email privileges, or time cards that account for every minute of the day because, in the eyes of employers, that time does not belong to workers. Amazon even patented a bracelet that tracks the movements of its warehouse workers.

“The future of labor is this technology being used against ordinary workers to create inhumane conditions,” said Lewis. “How effectively can you remove any downtime, any inefficiency, any human blip from this capitalist machine?”

This worrisome trend is partly due to the increasing sophistication of affordable spy technology, wrote Ellen Ruppel Shell for the Atlantic. Even the thought of being watched can influence someone’s behavior. Domino’s stressed that there is no consequence for not using its scanner, but it is hard to imagine that an employee would not feel the implicit threat of its presence.

All Rights Reserved for Sarah Emerson

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