Restaurant Trends: Are QR Code Menus Here to Stay?
QR codes have been on the rise in the restaurant world. Though they've been around for a while (without much use), the pandemic gave them a whole new life. With zero or minimal human contact needed to place, and/or pay for and complete orders, QR codes came to the rescue in a time when virus transmission was at the front of everybody's mind.
However, now that social distancing and mask mandates are lifting, what's the future for QR codes in the restaurant world?
Well, with about 50% of restaurants currently using QR code menus, some people think QR is here to stay. Others argue against the encroachment of this technology on the romance and tradition of dining out.
Whether you're for or against QR codes, or even if you're just not sure, let's take a look at the pros and cons of QR menus, and how your restaurant can stand out no matter how much – or how little – you integrate QR codes into your daily operations.
QR Code In-House Menus: The Pros
During the height of the pandemic, a major pro of QR codes was that they facilitated contactless ordering for both customers and restaurant employees. Less contact meant less risk of virus transmission and also helped restaurants that were forced to operate on a skeleton crew.
Fast forward to today when the pandemic is a little less apocalyptic, but staffing shortages are approaching crisis levels. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, 7 in 10 restaurant operators say their business does not have enough employees to support customer demand. QR code menus can actually help save time and reduce restaurant costs. For example, with no paper menus to hand out, hosts may not be needed during off-peak hours and servers can put in less time at the table. That means a single server can take more tables without too much-added stress or lag in serve time.
Beyond reducing the amount of contact and therefore employee resources devoted to face-to-face customer interactions, the next major pro of QR codes is the way they allow restaurants to change or adapt their menus to food shortages or outages, and pricing changes related to the same.
One of the challenges of inconsistent distribution is keeping customers informed on what you're out of. With paper menus, this means either printing new updated menus, which costs money or forcing your staff to notify everyone who walks through the door what you don't have or what you're short on, which is annoying for everyone involved.
With QR codes, changing your menu is as simple as going online and editing what you've uploaded through your hosting service. Suddenly your menu and your prices can change with the click of a button.
On the customer side of the table, QR codes offer quick and easy access to your menu, as well as the option of saving preferences and other details (such as a food allergy) via their phone. Even better, they no longer have to worry about picking what they want off the paper menu and excitedly ordering it – just to hear, “Sorry, we're out of that.”
QR Code In-House Menus: The Cons
With all of those pros, it's easy to see why so many restaurants are continuing to use QR codes for digital on-premise ordering. But it's not all roses and not everyone is excited about digital ordering.
For restaurant owners and managers, QR codes require that you have consistent Wi-Fi or internet availability for both you and your customers. Though the world is more connected than ever, with a cell phone in every hand (or so it seems), Wi-Fi costs money and dead zones still exist.
And some people like it that way. People who start food businesses certainly aren't in it for the wide profit margins, easy working hours, or guaranteed riches. They're in it because they like feeding people, and they love creating an atmosphere for their customers. Tech-centric options may clash with that atmosphere.
Even if restaurant owners and managers are all for QR codes in-house, their customers often are not. Not everyone owns a smartphone or wants to rely on it to place and pay for their order. And no matter how you feel about using the technology, the aesthetic preferences of your customers aren't something to treat lightly. After all, your vibe can literally make or break your business.
Give the People What They Want
The use of QR codes doesn't have to be binary and it's not necessarily an all-in or all-out situation. You can incorporate tech into your restaurant at your own pace and in a way that works for both you and your customers.
As anyone who's been in the food industry knows all too well: the customers are going to let you know exactly how they feel.
Tech insecurity will cause some to lean away from the encroachment of QR codes on their dining experience. Tech joy will lead others to embrace the power and agency of accessing the menu and ordering through their phones. Your job is to listen to the general consensus of your customers and adapt accordingly. Change doesn't have to happen everywhere and all at once. If most of your customers like it the old-fashioned way, with a paper menu and a server to chat with, then why not give the people what they want?
And while you're giving the people what they want, why not go ahead and show them what else they might like? Why not adopt a hybrid system of both an in-house and a digitally-accessed menu?
Adding QR codes to your paper menus or somewhere on the table gets customers used to seeing and using the codes. Larger restaurants, with both a bar and a dining area, can adapt QR code menu ordering for the bar (often the smaller section of the establishment) and stay more traditional in the dining room.
Going Beyond That Standard Menu
While the topic of this article may eventually be moot, since we'll soon be ordering via the Metaverse and eating in virtual dining rooms projected into our living rooms, there's still time to explore the possibilities of both digital and traditional paper menus.
The world of QR code menus offers a variety of potential benefits for restaurant owners and managers, as well as convenience for customers. And in-house menus can incorporate QR codes in ways that are fun, easy to use, but not necessarily a part of the final ordering process. The choice is yours.
One final word: paper menus are not dead, but they are worth rethinking. Paper menus can be costly, time-consuming to fold (or flatten, after they've been through a few Friday night rushes), and are easy to tear or stain. Many restaurants have switched over to plastic menus, which are waterproof, easy to sanitize, and can hold up under the stress of Friday and Saturday nights and still look good for the Sunday brunch crowd.
How you incorporate technology into your restaurant is a personal journey, one navigated by the owners, managers, and customers. Stay open, stay flexible, and keep your menus – be they digital, in-house, or both – dynamic and informative.
Jon Bernard is the National Account Manager at Stomp Stickers.com. Stomp is an e-commerce business that offers high-quality custom labels, stickers, boxes, canopy tents, and more. Jon's passion is helping his customers brand and market their products through a variety of custom printed items. To get help with your custom printing needs, visit Stompstickers.com or email Jon directly at jon.bernard[at]stompstickers.com.