Why we should stop using QR codes for restaurant menus

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Why we should stop using QR codes for restaurant menus

Your fifteen minutes of pandemic fame are up.

Remember 2020 when we were excited to dine al fresco after a three month lockdown? Scanning a QR code and having a restaurant menu pop up on your phone almost seemed like fun back then.

Back then, it was wrongly assumed that the coronavirus spread through surface contact. Post-vaccination, QR menus belong on the ashes of pandemic history, as does wiping down mail and dousing your snack containers with hand sanitizer.

But these Rorschach inkblot-like menu replacements refuse to die. Too many in the industry persistently and irrationally continue to use QR codes, further angering customers faced with ever-expanding menus. Having to squint at an iPhone before that first sip of wine can spoil the pleasure of dining — indoors or out.

“Eating should be carefree and fun. QR codes spoil the mood and turn what should be a pleasant experience into a chore,” says New York-based communications consultant Rachel Antman, who loves to eat out often.

“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.

QR code menus are relics from the time when it was wrongly believed that the coronavirus spread through surface contact.
QR code menus are relics from the time when it was wrongly believed that the coronavirus spread through surface contact.
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Jeremy Wladis, who owns the kitchen Good Enough to Eat and Harvest on the Upper West Side, long ago ditched QR codes at his popular Columbus Avenue spots because customers “never fell in love with them.” He can’t wait to switch from QR to paper menus at Fred’s, a popular burger and beer joint in Amsterdam and West 83d Street that he just bought. The previous owners still used QR.

At ultra-trendy Szechuan eatery Shan on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, the lengthy menu requires multiple swipes. One manager explained to us: “It’s easier to change the menu from day to day when dishes are added and left out.

Easier for them – not for us. After waiting up to an hour to be seated, what a treat to battle your way through Shan’s ma la dry pot variations on a two inch by three inch screen!

Midtown Craft Beer Emporium The Three Monkeys goes even further, offering 36 beers to browse, plus a million tacos, flatbreads, bowls, salads, small plates, large plates, cocktails, wine — all in separate categories. Just what you need when you’re desperate for a bite.

As if diners needed another reason to stare at their phones during dinner — now it's unclear if the unwanted distraction will ever be done away with.
As if diners needed another reason to stare at their phones during dinner — now it’s unclear if the unwanted distraction will ever be done away with.
Getty Images

For my friend Shelley Clark, a Manhattan-based publicist, scrambling for food and drink proved a frustrating exercise at the Drom, the long-established nightclub/restaurant on Avenue A.

“Here’s the menu,” said an employee coolly, pointing to the tiny, barely visible QR code.

“The room is dimly lit because it’s a setting,” Clark points out. It tested her and her companion’s patience as they tried to aim the code with their phones and then went through deals on falafel plates and German sausage platters in the dark.

“Two customers were definitely upset,” she laughed.

Drom did not respond to requests for comment. Other restaurants offered weak explanations.

Restaurant industry professionals insist that the cost of printed menus is negligible and customers order less when using QR codes.
Restaurant industry professionals insist that the cost of printed menus is negligible and customers order less when using QR codes.
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“The menu is outdated, it changes all the time,” the waiter told us last week at the popular Turkish-Mediterranean Blue Mezze Bar on Upper Second Avenue.

Strange – their lineup, heavy on mezze and falafel samplers, looked exactly as I remembered months ago.

A manager at Tartina, an Italian coffee shop on Amsterdam Avenue near West 110th Street, said they still use QR codes “for security reasons” but would not elaborate. He said they could switch to paper when the seasonal menu changes in a couple of months – which can’t come too soon.

Are they pinching pennies for paper and printing? Restaurant veterans say any negligible savings are negated by the fact that customers spend less when ordering via QR menus.

Mercer Street Hospitality founder John McDonald, who uses paper menus at the great new Mexican bistro Bar Tulix, Lure Fishbar and Bowery Meat Company, estimates that QR codes could save a medium-sized restaurant $5,000 a year. That’s peanuts compared to what they could end up losing: McDonald found that its customers spend 15% to 20% more when ordering from paper menus.

Here's a secret - enough with the QR codes.
Here’s a secret – enough with the QR codes.
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The spending gap is likely because printed menus allow customers to “see the entire canvas at a glance” rather than having to browse categories individually on QR, he said.

“I can’t think of any savings that would convince anyone to just write code and not physically read a properly designed menu in their hands,” McDonald said.

The strangest menu politics might be at the stylish Macdougal Street wine bar, Niche Niche. A friend was stumped when told food is only shown via QR code – even though printed wine lists were on the tables.

“I thought it was Meshuganah,” he said. “But they wouldn’t explain why.”

He was so upset that he didn’t try the wine or the food. Niche Niche has not contacted us. They didn’t even send a QR code.

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