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A restaurant diner views a QR code on their phone just before clicking to bring up the restaurant’s QR code menu

Restaurant customers don’t hate your QR codes

They hate your PDF menus.

Although we strongly disagree (and will soon tell you why), the word on the street is that restaurant customers hate using QR codes to access menus.

Customers are not very nice about it. The words they use around QR code technology are emotional and often harsh.

F*** QR codes,” says Katie Way, a senior staff writer at Vice.

In the article, she writes about QR code menus using words like disturbing, menace, annoying, and Satan’s grid.

Really… Satan’s grid?

Bring back real restaurant menus,” says Christina Cauterucci, a senior staff writer at Slate, also using strong words that drum up emotion, such as hate, despise, tedious, and excruciating.

Worried and displeased young woman reading bad news on her phone while sitting at coffee shop.
Worried and displeased young woman reading bad news on her phone while sitting at coffee shop.

Washington Post journalist Helaine Olen calls the mood-busting menus unnecessary, anti-social, discriminatory, unpopular, and, notably, the death of civilization.

Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post says QR codes are “Rorschach inkblot-like menu replacements that refuse to die.”

Why so angry, customers?

We know why.

Restaurant customers don’t hate using QR codes. They hate the PDF menus at the end of the QR code journey.

QR stands for quick response. But there’s nothing quick about customers scanning your restaurant’s QR code, downloading a PDF version of the menu, finding the menu in the correct folder on their phones, and then pinching in, zooming out, and turning the phone this way and that to try to read the menu.

A diner holding their mobile phone in hand trying to read a tiny PDF menu

The thing is… PDFs aren’t designed to be read on phones. They undermine all the menu science that went into designing your print menu and lead to terrible customer experiences.

Although not speaking specifically about menus, futurist Bryan Alexander wrote about how reading PDFs on a phone feels to him. “Some PDFs have formatting which might have been very nice in print or on a big screen, such as several columns and neatly integrated visuals, but which force readers on smaller screens to pan left to right and back, zig-zagging across the file like a little kid trying to read under a blanket with a tiny flashlight.”

No restaurateur wants that experience for their customers.

But what if the end of the QR menu journey wasn’t a PDF menu?

What if, at the end of the journey, your customers landed instead on a true quick-response menu, one that upheld existing menu science, made your life easier, and helped you increase average check size?

Strangers & Saints, a salty tavern in Provincetown, Massachusetts, saw its average check size increase over the last two years despite going all-in on QR codes. 

A mobile phone scrolling through a true quick response menu powered by Stellar Menus; the menu shows Cocktails, Dips and Nibbles, and Mezze from the Sea

“More than 85% of our customers use our QR codes and like them,” says Stellar Menu’s founder Steven Latasa-Nicks. “Although most people think QR codes make average check size go down, our average check size has gone up by about 15%,” he says of Strangers & Saints, the restaurant he owns with his husband, executive chef Fred Latasa-Nicks.

Steven also says that the stack of research proving customers hate QR code menus are misstatement of facts. “There’s often a lack of context in the research questions,” he says, explaining that while a research firm like Technomic might ask diners whether they like QR codes, the question doesn’t distinguish between the QR codes customers use to access the menus and the menus themselves. “A real quick-response menu is nothing like a PDF,” he says. “It’s actually created for mobile devices and with mobile viewing in mind.”

Although journalist diners like Way, Cauterucci, and Olen decry QR menus, the tech is here to stay because it makes life better for restaurant owners, who can make changes quickly, easily, and on the fly.

“If you open at 5:00 p.m. and a server runs up to you at 5:15 to say that the new dish has chicken, but it’s supposed to be vegan, you can make the change in two minutes,” says Steven. “Same thing if the price of fish went up $4.00 or if you sold out of a popular dish.”

Until the next new technology comes along—perhaps an AI robot contraption that meshes with your brain’s energy and knows exactly what you’re hungry for—we say ditch your PDF menus and embrace the world of true quick response.

Is this what’s next in restaurant menu technology? Doc Brown from Back to the Future wearing his mind-reading contraption

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PDF menus on phones ruin the dining experience.
Switch to a true quick response menu and give guests an experience they’ll love.

PDF menus on phones ruin the dining experience. Switch to a true quick response menu and give guests an experience they’ll love.