I keep forgetting. I’ll sit down for dinner and wait for a waiter to pass by, and after a while I’ll start craning my neck and making eye contact. I am one of those people who will go out of their way to forgive what is generally considered “bad service” because service work is grueling and frantic and I know I even have the privilege of being served. But after a while it’s like, come on, I need a menu. And then when the waiter arrives asking me if I’ve decided what I want, I’ll remember it, oh yes, the menu is no longer a menu. It is this pixelated square placed on the table.
The technology began to appear in restaurants before the pandemic. In some fast-paced, casual places, you can order from a tablet at your table, never speaking to a waiter, and the apps let you order your Starbucks on the go and have it wait when you arrive. But the pandemic has increased the need for contactless options. At first, before we learned more about the virus, a paper menu seemed like a natural vector of infection, passing through dozens of hands and absorbing respiratory particles from the air. A menu accessed via a QR code from your smartphone offered a security polish and eliminated the need for contact with another human for any reason other than delivering your food or check. All of a sudden, QR codes were everywhere.
The technology is there for the QR code to provide not only a menu, but a whole ordering system. Some restaurants simply upload a PDF file of their menu to a website that you can access via a QR code, but others use services like Scanour.menu for internal orders, so restaurants can operate with fewer waiters. . According to Steve Wright, CEO of Scanour.menu, they see it more in casual, fast-food restaurants, where hospitality expectations are different. But he also sees adoption in gastronomy. In places like the Russian Tea Room in New York or the restaurants at the Shard Tower in London, Wright notes how QR codes feed into “hybrid service,” where QR ordering is available at the bar, but the restaurant offers full service. when you are seated at a table.
While most restaurants have embraced the QR code menu during the pandemic, Wright says he’s seeing a new wave of interest, as operators realize the QR code menu is convenient for them beyond the theater. pandemic remediation. And this often manifests in ways that are mostly hidden in the restaurant. “[If] something runs out on the menu, you click a button and it instantly turns off, âhe says of the flexibility of the code menu. âSo you don’t have to reprint your menu 20 times. Reprinting menus or telling patrons that something has been eighty-six is ââone less thing for busy staff to do, and Wright says it also saves restaurants money on restaurant costs. ‘impression. As restaurants continue to struggle with staff shortages and inadequate pandemic assistance, every little bit counts.
Now, the future of QR codes, say those in the industry, is fully exploring what can be done with technology. âRight now you’re looking at a static menu,â said Michael Beacham, president of REEF Technology. âEventually you will see a changing menu and possibly prices that change throughout the day. In the future, restaurants might update menus when they run out of certain items, or cut prices if a certain dish needs to be moved, or even create peak prices for the dinner rush. âThe prices could be higher on, say, Friday night than Monday,â says Wright. âYou can pre-program different menus. ”
Conservators are also seeing a pull in digital menus around data. âIf you run a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, you don’t know who your guest is until they pay,â Bo Peabody, co-founder and executive chairman of the Assis reservation app, told CNBC. âWhat the QR code can help you do is learn who this guest is right when they are seated. Â»Restaurants can quickly see who is ordering what types of food and save customer preferences for the next time they dine. Wright says his company has also developed a new service to track allergies, âso if you’re gluten-free, you set it once; the next time [the customer] arrives at the restaurant, it will remember it until the cookie is deleted from your phone, and instantly cross out any dishes that are not for you.
But while some restaurateurs see a bright future in QR codes, others, as well as customers, are unsure whether the supposed convenience is worth the possible changes in culinary culture. Dynamic pricing is something diners are used to during, say, happy hour, but restaurants and reservation services like Resy and OpenTable have already tried peak prices for blue chip bookings and have faced backlash. What works well sometimes is to lower the price to dine at “happy” tables in upscale restaurants. But your local pasta restaurant decided to lower the price of the dish you correct ordered because he wants to sell more is a little more strange.
And more importantly, eating out isn’t just about the food. While horrible expectations were set on behalf of the service, being served is the only reason why not every restaurant has passed definitively on delivery. When you, the customer, take on some of the work previously associated with hospitality, you become responsible for your own menu, ordering, and even processing your own credit card. Some of the magic is gone when so much is the DIY.
“I just want to be clear, the F-word QR codes” read a recent Instagram post from Long Island City Dutch Kills Cocktail Bar. âLooking at your phone for a menu is nauseating. He met dozens of Amens and Hear Hears, as well as treatises on why QR code menus are a necessity for the visually impaired or just for restaurants that want to save paper. âWe didn’t expect the post to get the reaction it elicited,â says owner Richard Boccato, who says every restaurant should do what works for them. But for Dutch Kills, QR code menus just aren’t what works for practical or philosophical reasons.
âFirst of all, historically we’ve been a dead zone for Wi-Fi anyway,â so there have always been technical issues, which is a bigger issue given their diverse customer base. âWe’re built on regulars, and we try to maintain that we’re not just for young children entering LIC, we’re for everyone,â he says. So trying to explain how to connect to Wi-Fi or download a menu to an older or just not tech-savvy customer is a problem.
But other than that, it’s a question of atmosphere. QR codes standardize looking at your phone during a meal or drink, which is often rude. You might just be checking what you want your next drink to be, but from there it’s easy to start checking texts and emails while pretending that you care who you are with. âThere should be some sacred time set aside for talking to people and deciding something together, and pulling out your phone immediately kills that,â Boccato explains. âYou’re not really there with the experimenter, you’re back in the land of the phone. “
Like basically all forms of technology, QR code menus have the ability to create connection and the ability to alienate. They can make it easier to sort out allergies or other preferences, or they can portend a world in which there is no waiter to ask her which appetizer she prefers. They can save money at restaurants, or facilitate a bar environment in which no one engages with each other, or create a world where the price of a dish drops every hour over the course of a night. . None of this is really because of the QR code itself, but rather the environment that restaurateurs want to build. Hospitality is above all “a human-to-human interaction,” says Boccato. QR code menus may be here to stay, but it’s the humans who decide what kind of environment to build with them.