Restaurant QR Codes: 2020’s Comeback Story

The restaurant industry, along with the rest of Travel and Hospitality have been among the industries most negatively impacted by COVID-19. While various measures have been taken to support restaurant businesses, such as pivoting to off-premise dining and home cooked meal planning, there are still challenges as the core restaurant offering has changed. Restaurant foot traffic is down, and restaurant brands of all sizes have been forced to pivot and leverage digital tools, third-party delivery, and storefront partners to capture demand any way they can. With this critical pivot, a forgotten technology has been key to engaging customers, driving transactions, and keeping both customers and restaurant employees safe.

The QR code is back and may actually be here to stay this time. 

The QR code is back and may actually be here to stay this time. This tool, which is compatible with most smartphones, allows large data packets to be stored on a simple grid-like image. When a user opens their smartphone camera to scan the QR code, it reads the code and prompts an action, whether taking you to a webpage, completing an order, generating an invoice, making payment or reviewing COVID-19 safety measures. These codes also allow for engagement tracking in real-time by being able to measure interactions, campaign success, and glean more insights into consumer behaviors and preference.

For customers, QR codes could not be easier. With ongoing improvements to the Android and iOS platforms, QR code recognition is built in requiring so few steps it’s almost magical. Launching the camera and framing the code (1) results in an instantaneous response. Customers simply respond to the messages on their phones to take the action or enjoy the content (2). 

With the pandemic continuing to cause massive changes to the restaurant industry, QR codes bring increased value to both customers and restaurateurs when most needed. And there is much more value to consider than ever before:

1. Increase Customer Confidence and Safety

As restaurants seek new ways to serve customers safely, QR codes are enabling customers to engage with all aspects of the restaurant as safely as possible. QR codes are providing customers with digital access to menus – replacing traditional paper menus that require cleaning, recycling and never-ending updates – making this aspect of the restaurant experience truly touchless.

DoorDash released a commission-free service that provides customers a way to order and pay at restaurants by scanning a QR code. Restaurants can display a unique QR code and when customers scan the code it takes them directly to DoorDash’s pickup menu through which they can order and pay with limited interaction. With QR codes providing guests with self-serve access to menus and safety protocols, restaurant servers are able to dedicate themselves to the guest experience, allowing more time to describe a personal experience with a particular dish or understand more thoroughly what allergies the diners may have. 

2. Enable Touchless Capabilities

With restaurants forced by the pandemic to rethink how physical exchanges are handled, QR codes can provide a contactless solution for facilitating ordering and payment. The QR code has made a rapid resurgence filling needs people did not even know they had. Recent research showed that 55% of respondents indicated contactless capabilities as one of their top three factors influencing their choice of restaurant. Beyond content delivery, QR codes are providing contactless ways to pay and increase self-service.

QR codes work because they are easy and universally recognizable. 

Payments in QSR as well as independent restaurants are being facilitated through QR codes on receipts making payment safer where an app is not available. Additionally, QR codes create touchless interactions throughout the restaurant experience.

Coca-Cola has used QR codes for their self-serve beverage dispensers. By scanning the QR code near the machine on their phone, customers are able to pour their drinks without touching the dispenser itself, akin to the Freestyle machine interface. The layer of safety that contactless capabilities provide is a clear benefit to all parties interacting with each other in public settings.

3. Increase Speed and Scale

While perhaps counterintuitive at first, in addition to removing friction and supporting contactless capabilities, QR codes can help speed up many of the customer steps in a journey. Numerous tasks now effectively have zero wait times. With a quick scan of a code, customers can access the content they need on a promotion, nutrition facts or safety measures, freeing up staff. QR codes also work to identify the customer to the restaurant. Brands’ mobile applications can generate codes that check customers in and confirm their orders eliminating manual ordering. This is speeding up the drive thru experience of popular brands such as Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A. Both have added ‘express’ lanes allowing mobile app customers to relay their order with a quick scan of a QR code. 

In many ways the rise in QR code use due to the pandemic has not just increased customers’ use of the technology but also forced a level of adoption and change in behavior. It didn’t take long for the dining public to shift their primary restaurant interactions to digital first and contactless. While we are working through the do’s and don’ts in the current environment, QR codes work because they are easy and universally recognizable. Using this technology to reach masses is the embodiment of a contactless and frictionless experience in an ever-changing digital plus physical world.

And, looking forward, we expect this adoption will shape customers’ behaviors and expectations for easier and quicker interactions. Whether QR codes or the next technology, customers will expect more frictionless experiences with uncompromised service.