print menus

The ultimate showdown: print menus vs. QR codes

By Megan Prevost

Once upon a time, there wasn’t a huge debate between different types of menus. Restaurants simply offered standard print menus. While there were tons of different options in the print menu world (and still are), it’s up to restaurants to decide which type best fits their needs and brand image.

However, after the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread restaurant closures, an alternative form of menu enjoyed a renaissance upon dining rooms reopening — the QR code menu. 

QR code menus allow customers to scan a code with their phone’s camera in order to view an online menu. These were extremely popular during the pandemic as they provided customers with a contactless experience and reduced the spread of germs. The pandemic has since died down, but many restaurants have chosen to continue the use of these types of menus. 

This begs the question: which menu is the best for your restaurant and, in an ultimate showdown, which will prove to be victorious? 

The classic print menu 

Menus, in general, are made to guide your guests through the restaurant experience. With the help of drink, main, and dessert menus, it’s easy to walk them through the courses.

However, that isn’t all your physical menus are good for. Physical menus can also highlight high-margin items or items you’re looking to upsell, bringing in more revenue. To do this, you can highlight certain items or feature an image to draw your customers’ attention. With QR code or digital menus, this isn’t as easy. 

Physical menus also offer a different sensation. Holding a menu in your hands will always feel more “present” while looking down at a cell phone might distract from the overall experience. Physical menus also capture your brand image better and promote consistency, therefore increasing brand awareness and recognition. While QR code menus can match in theme, they might not come across as well over the phone. 

Even though contactless options have taken off in the past few years, it’s safe to say that physical options aren’t going anywhere either. There’s something special that contributes more to the restaurant experience, especially in fine dining establishments, about physical menus. Physical menus also promote the idea of keeping your phone tucked away while eating, instead of involving it as an unavoidable part of the experience. 

The innovative QR code menu

QR code menus came into play when we needed them most. There were tons of restrictions in place when the lockdown orders were finally lifted, and restaurants had big decisions to make. They could either offer physical menus that needed to be laminated and wiped down after every guest, or place a QR code on the table or table tent that allowed customers to access the restaurant menus via their mobile device. 

QR codes not only make it easier for customers to look over the menu without server involvement but they make the server’s job easier as well. If they don’t have to worry about dropping off a menu, they can take a little bit more time to approach a table, giving them the chance to look over the menu on their phone. 

However, with some tables, an explanation of the QR code menu is required for better understanding. Thankfully, as these codes have become more prominent in dining, more and more people understand how to use them and this explanation isn’t required. Overall, QR code menus are a great option for restaurants looking to provide a contactless experience for their guests. 

Do customers prefer one over the other?

As with so many questions, there may be no easy or solid answer.

It can be hard to tell which type of menu customers prefer, as it differs depending on the type of restaurant and the type of person. For example, younger diners may prefer QR code menus more compared to older diners, and QR code menus may be more prevalent at quick-service and fast-casual restaurants instead of fine dining. 

Moving forward: the hybrid approach

The ultimate showdown isn’t much of a showdown at all, as most restaurants will likely opt for a hybrid approach in the years to come.

Because customers have seen both QR codes and physical menus, there will always be people who prefer one over the other. To ensure you’re satisfying both types of customers, you should have both options on hand at all times. It’s uncertain if this is going to be a lasting trend, but for now, opting for both will delight all types of customers. 

To do this, you’ll have to offer easy access to both types of menus. If you’re choosing to use physical copies primarily, place a QR code on a table tent or card that’s always accessible. If you’re choosing to offer QR code menus primarily, have a few laminated physical copies on hand for those who prefer that type of experience. 

By offering both, you can also track which type is more popular, as QR codes allow you to view how many scans have occurred in a certain time frame. You can also easily get a general idea of how many people are requesting physical copies. By using this information, you can change your strategy accordingly. 

So, print out some beautiful physical copies and get a QR code on those tables to ensure you’re catering to all types of customers in the new age of the dining experience post-COVID-19.

Megan Prevost is a marketing content writer for MustHaveMenus. Her work has appeared in App Institute, Bar Business, Modern Restaurant Management, Small Business Currents, PMQ, FSR, The Daily Fandom, and FanSided.