I know that might be an unpopular opinion. Some see those ugly little squares not just as a minor annoyance, but as a threat to the restaurant experience.
I’m not going to dismiss these sentiments as mere complaints from customers of a certain generation. Because, again, I get it; I understand the appeal of holding a menu in my hands. (I especially enjoy quietly judging a restaurant’s typography choice.) That’s what we expect to dine at the restaurant. It’s a ritual. A comforting formality.
The same applies to printed boarding passes. For some reason, I felt more comfortable with a piece of paper in my hands guaranteeing that I could board my flight. It was just part of my routine at the airport – until I tried the mobile version. And now I will never go back.
For those who are skeptical of QR-code menus, answer this question: What are the real benefits of physical menus over mobile versions? Physical menus are often bulky and take up table space. They should be replaced when altered or overused. Servers have to run around to hand them out, pick them up, and then hand them out again if customers want to see the dessert options.
Online menus, on the other hand, are easy to access and update. They give restaurants more flexibility to experiment with food options. I once went to a restaurant that allowed customers to take a personality quiz on their phone to determine which cocktail suited them best. Was it necessary or based on some kind of science? Absolutely not. But it was fun!
And for those who argue that cellphones are making restaurants less accessible to older diners, I say the opposite: those who have trouble reading paper menus in dimly lit restaurants would probably appreciate online versions, which allow them to zoom in on the text. They can also adjust the brightness of their phone to make them more readable.
What’s the downside? More distracting phones at the table? Maybe. But customers could always, you know, put their phones away after using them.
I’m not advocating getting rid of physical menus altogether. There will, of course, be some people who don’t have a smartphone or can’t get the QR code to work. And maybe sometimes there will be a grumpy customer who just refuses to look at a menu that isn’t made of some sort of fiber. For those folks, keep a few copies in the back.
For everyone else, make QR code menus the default option. It’s perfectly reasonable as a customer experience, and I think over time it will become a norm, much like reading news on a phone is quickly replacing print news. Is this a bad thing? No, it’s a response to changing customer preferences.
I suspect part of the resistance to QR codes in restaurants is due to a lingering resentment of silly coronavirus policies. Which is right. Restaurants have looked to online menus during the pandemic to limit the number of shared surfaces that could transmit the virus. But surface transmission was never really a thing; the coronavirus is mainly spread by air. So why keep online menus in place now? Don’t we want to go back to the way things were?
I hope not. Or at least not entirely. There are a lot of good innovations and behavioral changes as a result of the pandemic that we should maintain. No more hand washing. Greater emphasis on staying home when sick. More attention to ventilation. All of these things are positive things.
The same goes for better access to telemedicine. More remote work and less travel. And, yes, QR codes for menus.
I won’t be heartbroken if I’m wrong and restaurants decide, in the end, that QR codes just aren’t worth it. But if they go away with the pandemic, hopefully it’s for a better reason than people just don’t like change. Weigh all the pros and cons, and QR code menus are clearly a change for the better.