Data IntelligenceTechnology

The Digital Menu and Discussions on Privacy

It’s odd that one would look back at the restaurant menu with a sense of nostalgia. But, like the tablets that have slowly replaced the hardback book, the QR barcode is the new norm for not only viewing one’s dining choices but ordering them as well.

Let’s take a look at what this dynamic change means to restaurants and the diners using them.

How QR Codes Work

Customers scan a Quick Response or QR code, those ubiquitous pixelated black-and-white squares, with their smartphone and instantly view an online menu. It’s that easy. These codes also enable diners to be added to a waitlist, order directly from the menu, and pay with their credit card, depending on how digitally-driven a restaurant wants to dive.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry, over half of full-service restaurant operators reported adding digital menus delivered through a QR code since the start of the pandemic.

Benefits to Restaurants

The benefits to restaurants are many, including reducing strain on servers and providing support for an industry experiencing extreme labor shortages. Add the current supply chain disruption and technology that allows chefs to change their menu in moments, and it’s easy to see why QR codes aren’t going away any time soon.

A digital menu also appeals to chefs incorporating the popular farm-to-table movement and menus guided by the seasons. With just a few clicks, menu items and prices are revised, saving time, money, and trees.

Data-Driven Technology

Like all things involving the internet and wireless communication, QR codes enable restaurants to track those using them, including personal preferences and menu impressions. While QR codes are simply a URL or a website’s address, the URL can collect information unless you block it. This ability enables restaurants to add to that all-important consumer database, including a customer’s past order history and contact information.

Some consumers have started the conversation about how to block what some see as an invasion of privacy. Discussions include scanning a barcode in incognito mode and using a standalone QR scanner that allows you to copy the URL to the clipboard.

The New York Times quoted Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, “People don’t understand that when you use a QR code, it inserts the entire apparatus of online tracking between you and your meal. Suddenly your offline activity of sitting down for a meal has become part of the online advertising empire.”

Operators can use this information to offer a recommendation when the customer returns. Some sites even have the ability to tell what guests look at on a digital menu, how long they look at it, and if they scroll down to the dessert portion. Restaurants in the digitally astute category use this information to develop their digital menu, much as they do with menu engineering and paper menus.

Of course, some guests appreciate the personalization and care to details that come with restaurants knowing their preferences. Like walking into your favorite diner and being greeted by name, these customers like the idea of opening up their digital menu and seeing a recommendation based on their past orders.

Paper Menus Gone for Good

For now, it’s safe to say that paper menus will not be making their way to the archives just yet. Not everyone wants to flip out their smartphone when they get to a restaurant and start scrolling down the menu. In fact, some people are still opposed to bringing their phones out to a restaurant, a place they patronize so that they can get away from the demands of the day and relax.

While fine-dining restaurants may be the last holdout to the onslaught of the digital menu platform, it’s clear that these codes are here to stay. SpotMenus by BrandMuscle, one of the leading providers of digital menus for restaurants, signs up over 500 locations a week.

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