The Pandemic Is Pushing QR Code Menus Into the Mainstream

The Pandemic Is Pushing QR Code Menus Into the Mainstream

Earlier this month, I went to dinner with my family at the (wonderful) new Williamsburg restaurant Cozy Royale. The kids got paper menus and crayons. The adults scanned the QR code on the table to find the full menu and drinks list. At another Brooklyn restaurant Lalou a few weeks ago, I scanned the QR code to find the menu and also the health screening form, where they collected my email in case they needed it later for contact tracing. At Thai Diner one recent Saturday night, I used the QR code to access the menu, order my items, and pay, significantly cutting down the contact with a server, who just brought water and food when it was ready.

There are a lot of obvious upsides to relying on QR codes during this pandemic. Fewer items to touch and wash, less contact with servers, and more and easier ways to obtain important health and contact info from diners. But there are also very real advantages to keeping QR code menus well past the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chef Jonah Miller wrote a great piece about this for the Counter the other week and raised some points I hadn’t considered before. Most obvious is the great environmental waste of printing out so many menus. But he also argued the paper menu can inhibit creativity. As a chef he often thinks twice before changing a menu item because he doesn’t want to reprint the menu. Paper menus also prove problematic when items run out. Servers have to begin an interaction with a guest by telling them what the restaurant doesn’t serve. With digital menus, they can make the change on the spot.

I think this is going to be one of those pandemic-era pushes that may change how we interact with menus for the long haul. It won’t be for everyone (especially at the high end) but I imagine some restaurants will never go back to paper.

To hear more about QR codes, listen to my co-host Daniel and I talk to restaurateur Wilson Tang about them (and also the shifting dynamic between restaurant owners and customers) this week on our Eater’s Digest podcast.