Growing Biometrics: Finding a Home in Hospitality/Dining Industry

AKRON, Ohio - As small-business owners, Laila Zakham and her husband can't be at their Akron restaurant at all times.

So the owners of Aladdin's Eatery have employed what Zakham said is the next best thing. They use a computer system that requires an employee to log in using his or her fingerprint.

The employees use the system for everything from clocking in and out, to placing food orders and printing out checks.

"I think it's the best tool a restaurant could ever want to get," said Zakham, who has been using the technology for more than two years.

Zakham said the technology cost about $11,000 for four terminals equipped with the computer system and fingerprint pads.

"Owners cannot be at the restaurant all day long watching this and that," she said. "We had problems with people clocking in other people. It was just hard to keep track. My location is small. Imagine bigger locations."

Biometrics have been in use for many years in the law enforcement industry for fingerprinting databases, but the use in businesses for control and access to systems is "really starting to gain some traction in the marketplace," said Trevor Prout, director of marketing for the International Biometric Group, a consulting firm.

Biometrics are also increasingly being used by employers to secure access to buildings and special areas within buildings and even logging into computer networks so employees don't have to remember a password, Prout said.

The International Biometric Group projects annual global revenues for biometrics will be $1.2 billion this year.

In the restaurant industry, fingerprint technology helps eliminate what's called "buddy punching," where one employee clocks in another employee on traditional time clock systems. It also makes all employees accountable for their own actions.

It puts responsibility back on managers in addition to helping with security, said Brian Canale, owner of White House Chicken in Barberton, Ohio.

Too often, Canale said, he and other managers would be busy and give their four-digit ID code to an employee to complete a void or other transaction that required a manager's code.

"The fingerprint doesn't let you cheat," said Canale, who said he was just as guilty as others of giving his code number to employees. Or sometimes, some of the more enterprising employees might watch a manager put in the code and then use it on their own without permission.

Employees register their fingerprint on the computer system by putting their finger on the finger pad four times. The computer doesn't capture an exact image of the fingerprint, but keeps record of "data points" on the fingerprint.

The employer is able to assign different responsibilities to each employee's fingerprint. For example, one employee may get access to a cash drawer while another doesn't.

When the employee puts his or her finger on the pad, instant access is allowed onto the computer. Once the action is completed, or if the touch screen isn't touched within a certain amount of time, the system will log out for the next user.

There are security measures built into many of the systems. For instance, if a person has a major cut on his or her finger, that may change the fingerprint. So the employee would have to re-register a different fingerprint onto the system.

First glance

Biometrics have been in use for many years in the law enforcement industry for fingerprinting databases, but the use in businesses for control and access to systems is increasing.

Small-restaurant owners are open to the new technology because restaurants are labor-intensive businesses that have a lot of people working in them.