QR Codes Have Found a Niche During the Pandemic

Those quirky bar codes offer an easy, touchless ordering option, and consumers welcome them.

July 28, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—QR codes have found their place in the restaurant business as COVID-19 minimizes human contact, and consumers try to avoid surfaces that might transmit germs.

According to RestaurantBusinessOnline.com, operators are placing the codes on tables, hostess stands and outside the restaurant’s front door where guests can scan them with their phones and pull up a menu. Customers also can use them to order and pay from their phone.

Available from software suppliers, QR codes require little to no contact with a traditional waiter, nor does the guest need to download an app. “It’s so easy. Literally you just open your camera and you take a picture and it pops up,” said Julie Zucker, CMO of Branded Strategic Hospitality, a multiconcept operator.

Duke’s, a Branded-owned sports bar in Manhattan, implemented QR codes about two years ago, and guests loved it, Zucker said. It allowed them to easily order drinks or food on busy game days without having to flag down a server or squeeze through a crowd to reach the bar.

When the pandemic hit and dining rooms closed, Duke’s, and two additional Branded concepts, used the QR codes to support curbside takeout. The codes are also in place at outdoor tables allowing seated guests to scan and order from any of the three restaurants. Customers are alerted via text when their order is ready for pick it up at the bar.

Customers have been receptive to the codes. Nearly a third of consumers said disposable or single-use menus would make them feel safe as restaurants reopen, according to Technomic, and QR codes take that one step further by putting menus on guests’ phone screens.

The codes also offer an opportunity to engage more deeply with guests. “This is the first time that restaurant POS [systems] have really had access to the patron of the restaurant,” said Jennifer Sherman, vice president of product for NMI, a payment technology company. “I think that will open up an interesting new world of user experience, of diner experience.” 

That could mean built-in customer satisfaction surveys, loyalty programs or the option to easily split the check, Sherman said. It also could include a video embedded in the beverage menu featuring a mixologist making a drink and discussing it. “You can really take this to a lot of fun places,” Schatzberg said.

Until recently, QR codes hadn’t found a foothold in the U.S. the way they had in other countries. In China, for instance, big e-commerce companies such as Tencent and Alibaba built their mobile payment apps around the codes, leading to widespread adoption of cashless payment in the country, according to a 2017 article from Abacus, a division of the South China Morning Post. In the U.S., the pandemic could accelerate a similar shift toward cashless payment powered by QR technology.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.

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