The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, including how we dine out. One of the most noticeable changes was the widespread adoption of QR-code menus in restaurants. These are the square-shaped barcodes that customers scan with their smartphones to access digital menus, order food and pay bills. But are QR-code menus here to stay, or are they just a temporary solution?
QR-code menus have some advantages for both restaurants and customers. For restaurants, they can save money on printing costs, reduce staff workload and collect data on customer preferences and behavior. For customers, they can offer convenience, efficiency and contactless service.
However, QR-code menus also have some drawbacks that make them unpopular with many people. For one thing, they require customers to use their phones while dining out, which can be seen as rude or distracting. “They are almost universally disliked,” said Kristen Hawley, founder of the restaurant technology newsletter Expedite.
Another issue is the privacy concern. QR codes can enable tracking of personal information and behavior by third parties without consent or transparency. “People don’t understand that when you use a QR code, it inserts the entire apparatus of online tracking between you and your meal,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Moreover, QR-code menus can affect the social interaction and ambiance of dining out. Some customers miss the human touch and the personal recommendations from servers. Others find the QR-code menus hard to read and browse through. One restaurant owner said that the QR-code menu is “the antithesis of romance,” because it can inhibit conversation.
As a result, many restaurants are switching back to physical menus, especially as Covid-19 restrictions ease and customers return to dine in. According to Mark Plumlee, the senior content manager for menu management and printing platform MustHaveMenus, fewer restaurants are creating QR-code menus and the codes that are active are receiving fewer scans from customers.
Still, some restaurants see the benefits of QR-code menus and are keeping them around. They argue that QR-code menus provide more flexibility and options for customers who want to order and pay at their own pace. Benjamin Claeys, chief executive of Menu Tiger, a global QR-menu software provider, said that the number of businesses signing up for the company’s services grew 37.6% in the first quarter of this year, compared to the last quarter in 2022.
The future of QR-code menus may depend on how well they can balance convenience and privacy, efficiency and engagement, technology and human touch. As Byrne from Technomic said, “it’s an interesting quandary.”