Love them or hate them, QR codes are nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around since 1994 and were on the rapid decline—until the pandemic shook things up. They used to be a lot harder to use, too, before we could easily open our camera app to scan the photo and users had to download a separate app to access anything. I never thought much of QR codes until my first job, where we decided to try some guerilla marketing tactics to attract new members to our group of young professionals. One of our ideas included printing posters and hanging them up in local coffee shops with QR codes for the user to go directly to our website and see our upcoming events. This idea was met with mixed reviews, however, and we ultimately decided to hold off on the idea.
Fast forward to 2021, where we’re so used to using QR codes at restaurants that we don’t even think twice. I recently stumbled upon an article that argues QR codes can take away from the overall restaurant experience and add an unnecessary barrier between people trying to enjoy their dining experience. In some instances though, like fast food or more casual restaurants, QR codes may not be viewed as disruptive. But in a formal dining experience, users interacting with a QR code may be more likely to stay on their phone after the fact and be distracted by their mobile device. An additional complaint is that placing a direct order with QR code makes it harder to ask questions about specific food items or make modifications to your meal.
The upscale chain Barcelona Wine Bar decided to do something about this after receiving too many complaints about QR code fatigue. The restaurant chain actually switched back to in-person service with paper menus. This decision to return to regular menus was a huge success, and continues to be in effect today. It’s interesting to think about these changes that we’ve grown so accustomed to. I personally have gotten used to the convenience of a QR code and enjoy the instant gratification of viewing a menu right away.
Overall, I’m curious to see how QR codes shake out in the upcoming years as we settle back into more social settings. I think QR codes are overall an effective marketing tactic and less wasteful than paper menus, but I can see why some people find them distracting. In a world we are more plugged into our phones than ever before, is the right move for paper menus to still be the norm? Or is transitioning completely to online ordering the way to go?