The biggest appeal of augmented reality for restaurants is the ability to allow customers to visualize food options in a real-life setting. It creates a visual, mouthwatering appeal that can encourage guests to try things for the first time, or to indulge in dessert or additional appetizers. An augmented reality menu provides diners with textural, flavor, and other cues that can inform their decision making, so they can explore more of a restaurant’s offerings with less risk.
What is Augmented Reality?
“Augmented reality” (AR) is often confused with “Virtual Reality” (VR) as it conjures images of people walking around with futurist looking goggles. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality is something you can access with just the camera on your phone. It’s the ability to superimpose 3D content of virtual items into the real world and interact with them through the cell phone screen.
The most well-known use of AR is a game called Pokémon Go which got millions of people out in nature, using their cell phones to “find” various 3D Pokémon characters hiding around real-world settings. On the industrial side, manufacturers use AR in various ways such as adding work instructions onto a surface, so the worker has a dynamic picture of a preferred assembly.
Overall, AR is a growing market. According to market research firm ABI Research, the augmented reality sector will see tremendous growth in the coming years, reaching a $175 billion market size by 2026. The firm notes the biggest gains will come through the consumer-facing segment, but there’s also a need for AR devices and applications in industrial and enterprise environments.
The AR Opportunity for Restaurants
The restaurant industry will be a part of AR’s growth starting with augmented reality menus. This new type of menu will enable guests to look through their phone’s camera and see food items come to life right in front of them. For example, diners will clearly see how shoyu ramen might differ in appearance from tonkotsu-style ramen. The AR technology changes the perspective of what the user sees in real time as the diner moves their phone. As the old saying goes, people eat with their eyes first, which makes AR a direct fit for the food industry.
AR can also be extremely functional as it allows guests to see the scale of food items and better understand things like size and quantity.
Aside from the aesthetic elements, AR can also be extremely functional as it allows guests to see the scale of food items and better understand things like size and quantity. It can also break barriers, allowing guests to try new items without fear of being surprised with something they didn’t expect. How many times during a dining experience have we all avoided ordering something that sounded interesting because we didn’t know what it was like?
Some chains as starting to dip their toes in AR. Pizza Hut launched campaigns adding AR to non-menu items. The chain used AR to turn special edition pizza boxes into a virtual arcade for playing Pac-Man and other games. These types of implementations will continue and will function as complements to AR menus as the technology’s usage grows throughout multiple aspects of daily life.
AR Menu Roadblocks and Benefits
An August 2022 report from McKinsey titled “McKinsey Technology Trends Outlook 2022: Immersive-reality technologies” outlines the organization’s thoughts on the AR adoption timeline. It predicts adoption in three to ten years where “consumer AR is introduced as a low-fi experience while enterprise AR improves, with augmented visuals interacting more fluidly with external inputs and usability expanding out of preprogrammed spaces and use cases.” It suggests widespread adoption after 10 years, with AR becoming a part of everyday life, sensors providing people with augmented experiences at restaurants, and at myriad other settings throughout their day.
Combined with new self-service ordering options, AR will allow guests to better engage with restaurants in a way that is streamlined and allows restaurants to operate effectively and efficiently with smaller teams.
Yes, there is a novelty factor at play with AR menus, along with concerns that it might slow ordering times since the users might want to engage with the experience and visualize various food items that they might not have intentions of ordering. There’s also a cost issue with restaurants needing to rely on a vendor to create the 3D imagery and to ensure the AR works flawlessly. Another roadblock is managing customer expectations as they’ll want consistency in terms of the 3D model of their cobb salad or mushroom burger to resemble the presented, real food. These roadblocks will keep some operators on the fence about adopting AR, but others will focus on the opportunities created by this new technology and reach for quicker adoption.
Augmented reality will also become another tool for restaurants to deal with the labor shortage. Combined with new self-service ordering options, AR will allow guests to better engage with restaurants in a way that is streamlined and allows restaurants to operate effectively and efficiently with smaller teams.
As some chains add AR menus and see positive feedback from diners, other companies will see their lack of such technologies as competitive disadvantages. From a broader perspective, AR menus will generate publicity and buzz for restaurants, which they need to pull in Gen Z diners who do not dine out as frequently as older generations. These reasons will drive adoption at a quickened pace, turning AR menus from a novelty to a standard offering at restaurants throughout the world.