Their fifteen minutes of pandemic glory are up.
Do you remember 2020, when we were excited to dine out after a three-month lockdown? Capturing a QR code and seeing a restaurant menu appear on your phone seemed almost fun back then.
At the time, it was mistakenly believed that the coronavirus was spread by surface contact. After the vaccine, QR menus belong to the ash heap of pandemic history, as does wiping down the mail and dozing your takeout containers in hand sanitizer.
But these Rorschach inkblot-like menu replacements refuse to die. Too many people in the industry stubbornly and irrationally continue to use QR codes, further irritating customers faced with increasingly sprawling menus. Being forced to squint at an iPhone before your first sip of wine can suck the joy right out of a meal — inside or out.
“Dining out should be carefree and fun. QR codes kill the mood and turn what should be an enjoyable experience into a chore,” says Rachel Antman, a New York-based communications consultant who often enjoys dining out.
“When I scan a QR code in a restaurant, it reminds me of the check-in rigamarole at kiosks that offer rapid COVID tests,” she said.
Jeremy Wladis, owner of Good Enough to Eat and Harvest Kitchen on the Upper West Side, long ago got rid of QR codes because customers “never fell in love with them” at his popular Columbus Avenue spots. He can’t wait to switch from QR to paper menus at Fred’s, a popular burger and beer restaurant in Amsterdam and West 83d Street that he just bought. Previous owners were still using QR.
At the ultra-trendy Szechuan Shan spot on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, the long menu requires multiple swipes. A manager explains to us: “It’s easier to change the menu” from one day to the next as dishes are added and removed.
Easier for them, not for us. What a treat, after waiting up to an hour for seats, to work your way through Shan’s ma-la dry pot variations on a two-by-three-inch screen!
Midtown craft beer store The Three Monkeys takes things a step further, offering 36 beers to browse, plus a million tacos, flatbreads, bowls, salads, small plates, big plates, cocktails, wine, all in separate categories. Just what you need when you desperately need a bite.
For my friend Shelley Clark, a Manhattan-based publicist, food-and-drink arguments proved an exercise in frustration at Drom, the long-established nightclub/restaurant on Avenue A.
“Here’s the menu,” a staff member said coldly, pointing to the tiny, barely visible QR code.
“The room is dimly lit because it’s a performance space,” Clark points out. It strained his and his companion’s patience as they tried to target the code with their phones and then wade through lists of falafel plates and platters of German sausages in the dark.
“Two customers were definitely upset,” she laughed.
Drom did not respond to requests for comment. Other restaurants offered weak explanations.
“The menu is outdated, it changes all the time,” the waiter told us at the popular Turkish-Mediterranean Blue Mezze Bar on Upper Second Avenue last week.
Strange – their lineup, heavy with mezze and falafel samplers, looked exactly like what I remembered from months ago.
A manager at Tartina, an Italian cafe on Amsterdam Avenue near West 110th St., said they still use QR codes “for security reasons,” but didn’t elaborate. He said they could go to paper when the seasonal menu changes in a few months – which can’t happen too soon.
Are they pinching pennies on paper and printing? Restaurant veterans say any negligible savings are wiped out by customers spending less when ordering from QR menus.
Mercer Street Hospitality founder John McDonald, who uses paper menus at the glorious new Mexican bistro Bar Tulix, along with Lure Fishbar and Bowery Meat Company, estimated that a mid-sized restaurant could save $5,000 a year with QR codes. That’s peanuts compared to what they could end up losing: McDonald’s has found that its customers spend 15-20% more when ordering from paper menus.
The spending discrepancy is likely because printed menus allow customers to “see the whole web” at a glance, rather than having to browse categories one at a time on QR, he said. -he declares.
“I can’t imagine any cost savings that would convince anyone to just want to do code and not physically read a properly designed, hand-written menu,” McDonald said.
Perhaps the strangest menu policy is at the stylish Niche Niche wine bar on Macdougal Street. A friend was puzzled when told that food was only displayed by QR code – even though printed wine lists were on the tables.
“I thought it was meshuganah,” he said. “But they didn’t explain why.”
He was so bored that he didn’t stay to try the wine or the food. Niche Niche did not respond to us. They didn’t even send a QR code.