QR codes ushered in a new era of hospitality


QR codes, which were once a punchline in the world of media, are now important tools for driving restaurant growth and improving the customer experience, enabling dynamic menus that allow restaurateurs to avoid wasting time and budget printing menus and testing new new rates. They also represent how central mobile will be to the future of dining after two years of restaurants demonstrating resilience and constantly adapting to new realities.

Public safety measures around the pandemic have brought the QR code back from the abyss, and the momentum continues: Insider Intelligence predicts QR code reading will increase year-over-year in 10% in 2022, after jumping 15% last year and 25% in 2020. And 68% of adults say they are likely to pay using contactless or mobile payment options if the restaurant offers them. After falling out of favor in the 2010s, QR codes are perhaps the best tech renaissance story of this young decade so far.

Across all sectors of industry and the general public, the ease of scanning QR codes is no longer an underrated feature – they are now as common as watching TV. Coinbase got a lot of attention when it featured a QR code in its Super Bowl 56 ad – the crypto brand app downloads jumped 279% thanks to the trade. Since then, brands such as Buick and Avocados From Mexico used QR codes in their TV spots. Burger King was ahead of this trend in April 2020, offering free Whoppers to customers who were able to scan a QR code using the BK mobile app during a 15 second TV commercial. Now, that’s a trend that’s not going away.

For restaurants, some may believe that QR codes have only served to replace traditional touch menus to avoid spreading germs during the pandemic. But QR codes represent how technology can transform the dining experience and be the catalyst for a new era of hospitality, benefiting restaurant customers with self-service ordering and payment, employees with the ability to turning more tables and getting more tips, and owners with more efficient staff and increased sales.

More control over meal timing
Restaurants can use QR codes beyond mobile menu/ordering access, as they can boost and improve in-person dining, better understand customer preferences through data, and provide greater convenience. QR codes enable self-service that allows the customer to order and pay on their own and create a more efficient front of house experience.

By putting ordering and payment technology in the hands of customers, servers can focus on more rewarding roles, such as greeting customers, helping them choose the right menu items, checking in, and not having to pass time swiping credit cards. At the same time, diners can continue to order food and drinks without having to worry about flagging down a server. It’s clearly a win-win –– digitizing the heavier aspects of restaurant management creates a more positive experience for staff and customers.

Additionally, the ease of mobile menus/orders seems to inspire customers to add more items to their tickets. For example, Roc-N-Ramen saw the size of the checks increase by 15% since it offers its mobile ordering via QR codes. Such an increase shows that by using today’s technology, restaurants can benefit significantly by giving customers more control over the pace of their meal.

The power of customer data
We are entering an exciting new era of dining experience through personalization. With QR codes and mobile menus/orders, restaurants can introduce loyalty programs, customer rewards, and special offers that can help improve the dining experience of future customer visits.

A good example of data that can be captured through mobile ordering platforms: Restaurants can get customer feedback immediately, asking customers to quickly press a button to rate their meal and the customer experience. These real-time reviews allow restaurateurs to show their commitment to customer experience by responding quickly to positive and negative reviews. These quick responses to negative ratings are more important than ever – a Toast study found that 65% One-Star Yelp Reviews were posted within a day of a bad dining experience.

Additionally, restaurant businesses of all sizes – not just national chains – should be able to own their customer data. Data that can be collected through mobile ordering should be considered a high priority for all hotel operators. Going forward, as more restaurants leverage their first-party data, the dining experience of the future will soon be personalized for each customer based on their past food and beverage purchases.

However, data-driven personalization can go beyond orders placed. Imagine being able to easily filter your menu based on dietary restrictions or preferences such as gluten-free, peanut-free, or dairy-free. Almost everyone has dined with friends or family where there are dietary concerns, and the current restaurant experience is not ideal for such cases. In this regard, personalized menus enhanced by digital technology can be a game-changer.

The future: more technology and a better dining experience
The re-emergence of QR codes represents only a starting point for the technological transformation of the dining experience. In fact, QR codes could disappear if near-field communication (NFC) technology takes off, allowing restaurants to offer customers and passers-by the ability to tap into NFC-enabled smart menus and signage. In these cases, customers might receive helpful details such as opening hours, menu options, and even wait times and seat availability.

Also, in the not so distant future, we will see innovation around the dining experience before the customer arrives. I predict that we will start to see restaurants offering customers the option not only to make a reservation online – which is already happening widely – but also to select a specific table location within the establishment and order their drinks and appetizers in advance so that the items are waiting for them while they sit down. These ideas represent the direction the industry is headed, moving into an “end of waiting” period.

Especially in fast casual dining concepts, diners will expect these self-service options as they can provide a better experience. In other words, mobile ordering has become a must-have technology instead of a nice idea to have. And one day, the restaurant industry will look at meshing traditional hospitality with tech-powered self-service and point to QR codes as the feature that ushered in a new era.


Steve Fredette is president, co-founder and director of Toast, where he leads product and innovation initiatives. Prior to Toast, he worked on mobile app development prior to the release of the iPhone, creating the first Flickr and Shoebuy.com apps. During his two-decade career, Steve also helped grow Endeca’s business in various roles before it was sold to Oracle for $1.1 billion.


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