At restaurants, things aren’t so black and white for the QR code

Are QR code menus a success? The data is a little pixelated.

Google search interest for QR code

Olivia Heller

For over a decade, businesses have sold them as living gravestones. In 2016, Japanese officials supplied them to families to paste on elderly relatives in case they got lost. In 2021, in China, where they’re the most common payment method for 95% of mobile users, we learned they could appear in the sky via drone swarm.

But for the love child of Tetris and bar codes, perhaps no industry has shown them more love, in recent years, than restaurants.

At least, so we thought…

The argument for restaurants making menus with Quick Response codes — yes, that’s what it stands for — is simple: Diners can order and pay without waiting on waiters like Larry David, while businesses, according to some estimates, can save 30%-50% on labor costs.

  • Of course, it also offered one less touch point during covid, when QR usage ballooned.

But “I never asked for this shit” appears to be a sentiment now shared by many.

In March, QR menus led an Axios list of “covid changes people hate.” This week, The New York Times reported QR menus are “being shown the door.”

  • The data is mixed. One company, Menu Tiger, saw its customer base grow 37.6% in Q4 2022; while another, MustHaveMenus, has seen total scans drop 27% since 2021 in recent weeks.

One reason? They’re “the antithesis to romance,” a restaurant owner told NYT. “A menu is a window to the soul of the restaurant, and a QR code has no soul.”

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