If you don’t know what a restaurant QR code is, I envy you. It’s the square black-and-white code you find on a sign at the table when you’re seated, asking you to scan it with your phone’s camera for a link to the establishment’s offers. Offered as a bit of hygiene when restaurants reopened after the closings of the start of the pandemic period, online QR code menus are useless, because the coronavirus is (we now know) an almost entirely airborne pathogen. But too many catering establishments continue to use them.
A physical menu sets the scene. It underscores the fact that it’s a special occasion, even if it’s just a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant. The menu means it’s time to take a break from a busy day, that this meal is something separate from the normal course of events. It also pushes us to interact with others. We share the menus. We point to things; we ask the servers questions about the meal and what they particularly like. It’s like opening a program at the theater, for a show that you and your companions are about to experience together.
Pulling out a phone to check the menu, on the other hand, is hardly conducive to setting the mood, unless you want to dine in the metaverse. Smartphones are endlessly distracting, and it takes discipline to put them away after consulting a menu, a bit of self-control that many can’t always muster. (Guilty.) It’s all too easy to rationalize checking a single email, sending a single tweet, a single glance at Instagram. (Guilty again.) We already spend nearly five hours a day staring at our smartphone screens. Do we really need a prompt to spend even more time in our electronic silos?
In fact, the QR code, like many, uh, technological advancements of the past decade, is designed to reduce or eliminate contact with others. Some actually think it makes dining out more enjoyable – or at least less work. As one business-to-business site promoting the use of QR codes puts it, “the customer no longer needs to share menus or interact with waiters or waitresses,” adding, “it massively increases the convenience, making dining a more enjoyable experience for everyone.”
counterpointQR code menus are good. No seriously.
Uh no. A recent Tweeter asking “what do we as a culture need to do to kill QR code menus” received over 300,000 likes. And a poll conducted late last year by the National Restaurant Association found that two-thirds of all adults preferred print menus to the online version. Baby boomers in particular decry the use of QR code menus, with 4 in 5 preferring a physical menu. That may be because, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, 40% of people over 65 still don’t have a smartphone. The same is true for a quarter of those earning less than $30,000 a year. A QR code menu is like telling the elderly and the poor that their business is unwanted. Pleasant!
Robert Gebelhoff: QR code menus are good. No seriously.
Yes, QR code menus have their advocates. I actually know a few of those blinded souls. Some of them are even my colleagues. They say QR code menus are healthier and better for the environment. But let’s be realistic. Germ? If you’re so concerned, ask restaurant management about paid sick leave policies for staff, which is bound to be much more effective in reducing contagion. And no one who writes for a print newspaper has to complain about wasting paper when printing a menu.
So why do QR code menus persist? They provide short-term trading benefits. By placing the menu online, restaurateurs can not only skip the step of bringing you a menu, but they can also adjust their offerings on the fly. This could be especially useful in this time of scarcity and inflation, allowing managers to quickly factor in supply chain issues and raise prices to cover rising costs.
But this flexibility comes with major drawbacks for the restaurant customer. Another: Some industry consultants say QR code menus will ultimately lead to greater profits in the form of an Uber-like price spike, allowing restaurants to charge more on a busy Friday than a busy Friday. rainy Tuesday evening. “Eventually what you will be looking at is a changing menu, and possibly, prices changing throughout the day,” one restaurant industry veteran helpfully explained to Eater last year.
Is this the future you want? Staring at your phone, ignoring your mates, while your pasta explodes at 200% of its normal price? I do not think so. It’s time to end the reign of the QR code menu. It’s a technological breakthrough we could all do without.