QR codes

QR codes seem here to stay despite diner disdain

Foodservice’s embrace of technological solutions was hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic, safety, and staffing challenges it brought on. But it isn’t just new innovations we’ve seen rise to prominence in the last few years. QR codes, a tool once sidelined, have rebounded in a big way.

These days, in the second half of 2022, it’s rare for a customer to walk into a restaurant and not be confronted with at least the option of using a QR code to access a digital menu.

What originated as a way to bypass unnecessary physical contact points in an attempt to stymie the spread of the coronavirus has evolved for many restaurants into a key operational efficiency that provides a much-needed solution to critical pain points like menu printing costs and staff shortages. Their popularity with operators keeps growing; point-of-sale and digital solutions firm Square reports that the use of its QR codes including ordering capabilities jumped 143 per cent among its restaurant customers last year and has grown even more this year so far.

The only problem? Many customers don’t like using them.

A recent Technomic survey found that 88 per cent of respondents said they preferred paper menus to digital QR codes.

Around two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed that they don’t like QR codes because they involve pulling out your phone as soon as you sit at the table. In addition, 57 per cent say that using QR codes feels like a chore and a similar proportion (55 per cent) feel that QR codes are hard to read and browse through.

Many restaurants have decided that the best way forward is to strike a balance that allows customers to use QR codes if they are happy to do so, or to request a print menu if they prefer. Some have gone a step further, removing QR code menus because customers have expressed that they don’t like them and can even end up ordering less overall because of them.

However, many others will likely retain the technology on a permanent basis, refining the options as they go.

Bryan Solar, general manager of Square for Restaurants, told CNN that developing new and improved menus accessed by QR codes could provide an easier and more efficient future for both restaurants and consumers.

Solar highlighted how QR codes let restaurants update pricing and availability quickly and without added costs, and also save time and staffing power by eliminating unnecessary contact points — a key benefit in this ongoing labour crunch.

“When people say they’d like to see the QR code die, or they want to see it go away, I agree with that sentiment for QR code 1.0,” Solar said, referring to the “first generation” of the technology that offers limited flexibility. But responsive and interactive QR codes with direct ordering and payment integrated “are much, much, much more enjoyable experiences than the zoom in, zoom out of a PDF.”

As with so much in foodservice in the 2020s so far, trial and improvement will be key to finding a happy medium.