by Ellen Blake
I hate that many restaurants continue to use QR code menus. It’s not that I don’t appreciate technology or the fact that menus are available on the web. I actually love that I can order food online. It’s quick and efficient, but the experience is very different on my large screen home computer than it is on my cell phone. I order take-out all the time online. When I’m out in a restaurant, though, I only have my mobile phone, which is problematic for a variety of reasons. I know I can bring my tablet with me for access to a larger screen, but I don’t unless I happen to use a large purse that day. Even then, I usually don’t remember to bring it. How do you feel about restaurant QR code ordering?
What Are QR Code Menus?
Most of us are aware that QR, or Quick Response, code menus became very popular in restaurants over the last few years. The technology is not new but became much more widely used during the pandemic to replace high-touch traditional print menus with a contactless alternative. A QR code is a square shaped black and white symbol generally located on the table. Instead of a traditional menu, diners use their phone’s camera to scan the QR code to access a mobile-friendly digital version. The menu displays on your phone, allowing you to browse through the restaurant offerings.
Why I Hate QR Codes in Restaurants
I know many people who love the QR codes in restaurants. But there are many reasons I don’t. Where do I start? Here are some of the biggest reasons I dislike having to take out my phone to access the menu.
Text is too small.
Alot of us in the 50Plus age group don’t see as well as we did when younger, me included. Age unfortunately brings problems that may weaken our vision and eyes. I have a large group of long-time friends who celebrate holidays together and I noticed this year that we all wear glasses. Even those who had lasik surgery or use contact lenses now use reading glasses. When we started 25 years ago, only a few of us wore spectacles. Trying to read a menu on a small mobile screen poses a significant problem for me, especially in a dimly lit restaurant.
Need to scroll to view all menu items.
With a traditional paper menu, I can view all the food offerings with ease (providing the font is large enough!). I can go back and forth between the entrées, appetizers and beverages quickly to pull together my order. I don’t have to scroll up, down and across multiple times to read through the full menu as with a QR code menu. Trying to decide what to order becomes a chore on the cell phone. A very annoying chore. If you don’t memorize the menu, and most people don’t, this system requires a lot of back and forth. I have to ask, “What comes with that entrée again?” or “Which appetizers for the table work with everyone’s meal?”, then scroll back to the appropriate part of the menu to remind myself. It’s just not easy to browse through a menu this way.
Put your phone away!
I can’t tell you how much I dislike everyone having to pull out their phones as soon as they sit down at a restaurant. Often the phones stay on the table afterwards. Going out to eat used to be one of life’s greatest pleasures for me. It’s a time to focus on those sharing your table and not make someone on the other end of your phone or text screen the priority. Phones, in my opinion, should stay in your pocket or purse on silent when dining out. Check your phone when in the rest room to ensure there isn’t an emergency if you like or leave the phone on vibrate so you know if someone urgently needs you. Let’s face it, most calls are not emergencies and the person contacting you can wait an hour for you to get back to them. People using their phones even to just return texts during a meal lessens the dining experience for me.
Where are the specials?
How do you easily find the specials in a restaurant when scrolling a QR code menu? Digital formatting changes conventional menu design: it’s not easy to format an online menu to quickly draw the eye to a unique deal or offering. Some restaurants rely on the waiters to explain the specials verbally before taking your menu, and others use a white board. Those options work, but I always liked when restaurants provided a one-page paper menu explaining the specials best. Many restaurants no longer do any of the three and when the specials are listed only on the online menu, I often miss them.
The QR code technology can be confusing or inaccessible.
I lunch with an 80-year-old friend fairly regularly. While she is sharp as a tack and uses her computer at home for email and to google information, she finds the QR codes confusing. She only recently purchased a smart phone with a camera. If I’m with her, it’s not a problem to show her the menu on my phone or read the options to her, but she would much prefer to have her own traditional paper menu. It’s more of a problem when she dines out with her 90-year-old husband, who doesn’t own a smart phone. He has a track phone (no camera) for emergencies only that he usually doesn’t bring it out with him anyway. He is very sharp as well, just not interested in learning or using new technology at this point in his life. Shouldn’t the restaurant menu be easily accessible to all?
Why Do Restaurants Use QR Codes?
Despite some of the negative feedback restaurants received from patron about QR codes many continue to use them. This technology isn’t all bad.
Safety precaution during Covid
Most people agree that QR code menus are more sanitary than paper menus. That’s a good thing. In the early days of the pandemic, scientists thought transmission of the virus happened from touching surfaces. However, we learned since then that covid transmission is much more likely to occur from droplets in the air vs on surfaces. As a result, it’s not clear if using digital menus actually reduced the spread of the virus.
Paper and printing costs money. Every time a restaurant revises their food offerings, a traditional menu must be reprinted. A digital menu offers significant cost savings. In addition, in cases where in-house digital ordering and payment options are available, less staff may be necessary.
I’m Not Alone in My Dislike of QR Code Menus
I asked a number of friends and colleagues age 50Plus how they felt about online ordering in restaurants. Some dislike the QR code menus more than others, but none thought they enhanced the dining experience. Every one of these individuals said they would like restaurants to bring back print menus.
A recent article in the Washington Post by Helaine Olen boldly proclaimed, ““QR code menus are the death of civilization” She went on to explain,
“The coronavirus pandemic saw a number of changes in how we live, in ways big and small. Some were welcome: flexibility about remote work, say, or cocktails to go. But here’s one adaptation that can’t fall by the wayside fast enough: the now-commonplace QR code menus offered in place of the paper version in millions of American restaurants. They are unnecessary, anti-social, discriminatory and unpopular. They fully degrade the experience of dining out.”
I hate QR code ordering, and clearly, I’m not alone. I appreciate that some restaurants, knowing that customers dislike them, brought physical menus back after the lockdown. More, however, still use them. I don’t think QR menu codes are going anywhere, so we may as well accept them.
The Bottom Line
It appears QR code menus are here to stay, so I will adapt. Here are some tips for others based on my experience that might make life a little easier when ordering online in the restaurant:
- Bring a tablet if you have one to use in place of my phone for the menu. The bigger screen would be helpful.
- Enlarge the text size on your cell phone. You will have to scroll more to see the whole menu, but at least the words will be easier to read.
- Bring a pocket-sized magnifying glass with you. I keep one in my purse all the time; it comes in handy and not just at restaurants!
- Try to sit where the lighting is good and/or brighten your cell phone screen.
As I grow older and wiser, I understand how little sense it makes to get worked up over things I can’t change. Whether or not restaurants choose to use QR menu codes is out of my control. All I can do is offer my opinion, encourage others do so as well, and hope that at some point our cumulative voices will impact change so restaurants will bring back paper menus. What’s your opinion on QR code menus?