For those of you that left your smartphone at home when dining out with friends and family, those days may soon be gone. QR codes have taken the restaurant industry by storm since the pandemic disrupted our world, which means you’ll be needing those phones at your favorite dining establishments after all.
About 52 percent of restaurants in the U.S. have already switched to QR code menus and many more are expected to follow.
How do QR Codes Work?
QR, or Quick Response, codes were first invented in 1994 in Japan. They are 2-dimensional barcodes that store data horizontally and vertically, making them, unlike the barcodes you see in supermarkets, scannable at any angle. And, unlike 1-dimensional barcodes that only store up to 30 numbers, QR codes can store almost 7,100.
As of 2017, a smartphone’s operating system enabled users to scan these codes with their phone’s camera. Simply hover over the code, as if you’re going to take a photo, and a notification pops up with a link that directs you to the desired destination.
For smartphones that are experiencing technical difficulty, there are several QR code reader apps available for download.
While businesses such as Amazon, Taco Bell, and Starbucks have been using these 2-dimensional barcodes for some time, other brands are just entering the world of embedded data.
How are Restaurants Using QR Codes?
No-touch menus as well as ordering and payment methods are all possible with QR codes. In addition, these digital marvels offer customer tracking which can then be used in a brand’s loyalty or marketing program.
- Digital Menus – Customers scan the barcode which links them to your online menu. Operators are placing these codes on table tents, at hostess stands, on windows, sandwich boards, stickers, and labels, as well as flyers and even business cards. Adding specials or changing prices is as easy as editing your digital menu. You can also change where the QR code links to without having to change the code.
One restaurant reported saving $300 a day when they stopped printing disposable menus and went to the QR code.
According to Toast’s survey of 700-plus consumers regarding what was most important to them when returning to in-house dining, 40 percent reported single-use menus while 38 percent reported contactless payment.
- Order – Instead of directing guests to a menu, this QR code takes them to an online ordering form. Duke’s, a Manhattan sports bar, offers its guests the ability to order food or drinks via a QR code. Restaurant Business reported that customers loved the process that enabled them to order when desired and not have to wait for a busy server or bartender. In addition to directing guests to menus, these codes can also take them to your branded product landing page.
- Takeout and Delivery – Restaurants are marketing their takeout and delivery options by placing QR codes curbside. You can also give your customers the option of paying upon delivery using a QR code. Apps as well as QR code functions that can be added to your delivery app provide this service.
- Payments – Allow mobile payments by placing a code on the bill that is linked to your online checkout system, or an app that integrates with your POS.
- Marketing – Almost any surface can be used as an opportunity to display your code, and this code creates a digital trail. Customer profiles can then allow targeted marketing campaigns. Additional marketing strategies include adding your code to social media posts. An example of this is Instagram which doesn’t allow clickable links but does allow QR codes. You might consider directing them to your menu, an ordering form, or a coupon.
- Reviews & Surveys – In our current digital age, most restaurants are looking to obtain more positive online reviews. A strategically placed QR code can lead to a restaurant’s Yelp listing or to a NPS survey, a KPI that tells you how likely your customers are to recommend you to a friend.
- COVID-19 Information – Most customers are concerned about the safety precautions you’ve put in place. A QR code can take them to your digital pandemic safety plan and help them feel secure in choosing to dine at your restaurant. Toast’s survey revealed that 37 percent of respondents felt that a written statement regarding COVID-19-related cleaning procedures was important to their return.
Restaurants are also experiencing another much-needed benefit of QR codes—by reducing the time of ordering and payment processes, they are increasing their table turnover rate.
Examples of brands using this technology to their favor are numerous. For years, Starbucks has used QR codes in their promotional campaigns as well as for mobile payments. Chili’s Grill & Bar used QR codes to promote healthy dining, and Chick-fil-A increased their mobile app downloads by 14 percent by linking an app store to a QR code.
You can find these codes at casual chains and on food trucks that allow customers to order and pay and then receive a text when their food is ready for pickup. Their uses truly are just about endless.
There are several businesses that have made the process of implementing QR codes relatively painless.
Must Have Menus
In response to COVID-19, Must Have Menus put together a Coronavirus Response Kit in order to help small business owners navigate the changing regulations. This kit contains both articles and advice as well as some great templates to begin implementing QR codes in your restaurant. Gone are the days of black and white QR codes, today it’s all about a brand’s image.