< back to resources

Menu App vs. QR Code | Best Digital Restaurant Menu 2020

June 11, 2020
QR Code Menu

One of the easiest, most impactful ways a bar or restaurant can promote a germ-free experience is with a digital restaurant menu.

The benefits are legion. They’re usually cheaper. They allow for much more agility when trying to accurately represent inventory. They’re far more accessible. The list goes on.

But, crucially, they’re safer. As diners head back to bars and restaurants, their expectations are different. Restaurant safety and cleanliness were already top-of-mind for them, and now it’s a complete non-negotiable. If you’re not on the cutting edge of  restaurant cleaning , you’re not worth the risk.

So utilizing a digital restaurant menu is an obvious answer. And a touchless menu, no matter which kind, is your best bet. But you have a choice to make.

There are two primary types of touchless digital restaurant menus. Both can display all types of menu. The first is a menu app, and the second uses a QR code. This post will help you pick one.

What Is a Menu App?

App, short for application, is a piece of downloadable software that performs a specific task. When downloaded for desktop computer use, they’re called desktop apps. When downloaded for mobile use, they’re called mobile apps.

Today’s menu apps are, by and large, mobile apps. A menu app, then, is a piece of software that is downloaded on mobile devices to allow you to view a restaurant’s menu.

There are certainly some benefits of using a menu app over a traditional paper menu. But there are also some significant downsides. Let’s take a look.

The Pros of Using a Menu App

A Rich, Detailed Menu Experience

Menu apps allow bars and restaurants to surface a lot of relevant and eye-catching content about menu items. Because it’s a piece of software, menu items can exist on their own page. Guests click into a menu item and can see nutritional information, high-definition images, wine pairing suggestions, and more.

All that context drives a lot of experiential value. It should be said, though, that the same can be done with a web page. But a native app may do so with a crisper user experience.

Easy Navigation

Menu apps are easy to navigate and typically searchable. It’s not necessary to browse the entire menu. A menu app has foods categorized and guests can hop to and drill down into their desired categories. Again, a web page can do this, too, but a big-budget mobile app may provide a slightly better experience.

A Line of Communication

Once a guest has downloaded your menu app, you can send them push notifications for virtually anything. New menu items, promotions, changes to operating hours, and more. A downloaded app is an open line of communication with guests, which is a huge opportunity for marketing.

But those benefits come with a cost.

The Cons of Using a Menu App

They’re Expensive

While the allure of cutting out paper and printing costs is strong, a menu app brings its own set of expenses. Creating an app is not like creating a website. It’s a standalone piece of software coded from the ground up. That means you need to hire developers to build and maintain it.

Native apps have an upfront cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on the amount of resources you’re willing to devote. If you’re interested in creating an app that blows away the user experience and speed of websites, you’ll be on the higher end of that cost estimate.

They’re Not as Agile as People Think

Sure, a menu app can act as a content management system in the sense that it stores and displays content. And that content can change relatively easily. But the app itself, the tool that stores and displays the content, cannot change quickly.

Maintaining an app can be a full-time job. Fixing bugs, deploying updates, enhancing the user experience, and creating new features are all substantial undertakings. So a fully-functional app’s menu items update with relative ease. But getting that app to be fully-functional requires a huge investment of time and effort.

They’re Inconvenient

A menu app is a good idea, in theory, for a business. But think about it from a customer perspective. The average smartphone user has over 30 apps on their phone. And they go to a heck of a lot more restaurants or bars than just one.

Having to download, manage, and find multiple menu apps on your phone is a headache. There are so many apps out there, that your app risks getting lost in the shuffle. Apps used to be a novel, convenient solution, but they’ve proliferated to such a degree that they’re almost clutter now. Expensive, time-intensive clutter at that.

They Don’t Promote Discoverability

If a bar or restaurant menu is a mobile app, it’s not published on the web. That means it doesn’t show up in Google. That means the menu you put so much time and effort into creating, tweaking, and perfecting is not discoverable by new customers.

There is another option, though. And that’s using QR codes.

What Is a QR Code Digital Restaurant Menu?

A QR code is barcode that’s scannable by virtually all modern smart devices. Every QR code is associated with some encoded information and, once scanned, that information pops up on the device that scanned it.

A QR code menu typically works as follows. The QR code is associated with a URL, and on that URL is published a digital menu or digital wine list. Once the code is scanned, the phone or tablet automatically opens that URL in its browser window.

Let’s explore the benefits and drawbacks of this type of digital restaurant menu.

The Pros of QR Code Digital Restaurant Menus

They’re the Most Cost-Effective Restaurant Menu Option

Like menu apps, they eliminate the costs of paper and printing. Those costs may not seem substantial based on past experience, but it’s a different world. The National Restaurant Association recommends replacing paper menus after each single use. If you observe those guidelines—which you absolutely should—then the costs of paper menus adds up massively.

For the average restaurant serving 100 customers a day, 6 days a week, menu printing costs can range from $440-$480. A QR code menu by comparison will cost between $85-$125 per month. The more customers you serve, the higher your savings because QR code menus have a fixed monthly cost.

Couple that with the fact that a QR code is not an application. You do not have to pay for developers to code it from the ground up. It is, hands down, the cheapest digital restaurant menu option out there.

They Don’t Require Constant Maintenance

Creating a QR code is as simple as clicking a button. Creating a QR code digital restaurant menu is as simple as uploading a spreadsheet of your menu items and clicking a button. It’s some of the simplest restaurant technology out there. There is no codebase to troubleshoot, prune, maintain, and optimize.

There are so few moving parts, you’re likely never to have a problem using a QR code for your digital restaurant menu. They allow you to update your menu items almost instantly. That means you can test out pricing strategies and menu placement to drive sales. Look into menu engineering if you're not familiar, it's great stuff. And QR menus slot right in with a menu engineered for maximum profit. Without having to pay—in time and money—by constantly answering to a finicky standalone app that needs constant technical oversight.

They’re Lightweight, Accessible, and Convenient

There is nothing to download when accessing a digital restaurant menu through a QR code. A customer simply scans the code and the menu, already published online, pops up on their device. Doesn’t matter what device, as long as it is connected to the internet and has a web browser.

They don’t have to roll their eyes and download yet another app. You are not asking them to dedicate space on their device for your software. There’s nothing to find and update. They just point their device at the QR code—which can be placed anywhere—and scan it. It takes a second. Here are some good QR code templates to help them do it, too.

They’re Easier to Use

Look into how to scan a QR code. It’s as simple as pointing your phone at the code. Anyone who can take a picture using an iPhone can scan a QR code. This is in contrast to menu apps’ requirement to be downloaded and updated. For the non-tech-savvy among us, that’s actually a lot to ask. Pointing your phone at something is not.

The Cons of QR Code Digital Restaurant Menus

No Push Notifications to Customers

But that may actually be a good thing. Most people experience information overload, anyway. The average person gets over 75 emails per day. And they open less than 30% of them. People have a similar level of engagement with push notifications. That said, if you do want to send push notifications, a native menu app is one way to do it. But QR codes are no slouches, either. Look into QR code marketing.

Lower User Experience Ceiling

A QR code digital restaurant menu brings you to a website. A website is usually just as interactive as a mobile app. That said, many times mobile apps—with the right amount of investment—can provide a richer user experience than a website. If your goal is to provide a world-class interactive menu experience, then a team of developers, a big investment of time and money, and a native menu app is your best bet. Though, keep in mind, the more time your guests spend engaging with your technology, the less time they spend order, eating, and drinking.

Menu Apps vs. QR Code Digital Restaurant Menus

Here's a slick little chart we put together so you can visualize the pros and cons between menu apps and QR digital restaurant menus at a glance.

Benefit QR Code Menus Menu Apps
Cleanliness High High
Ease of Use High Medium
Time Requirement Low High
Cost Low High
Interactivity Potential Medium High
Push Notifications Low High

Winner: QR Code Digital Restaurant Menus

With our money and time on the line, we choose QR codes for our digital restaurant menu solution. Right now, everyone needs a contactless menu. That’s a given. So either native menu apps or QR code digital restaurant menus will help you deliver a germ-free experience.

But the benefits of QR codes for digital restaurant menus outweighs the benefits of menu apps. They require little money, almost no time, and provide a much more accessible and agile digital menu solution. What you’re giving up is the ability to throw a ton of development resources at your menu to turn it into a world-class mobile app. So very few restaurants actually do that, and if they do, their apps usually get lost in the sea of apps on peoples’ phones.

If you’re going with touchless menus, use QR codes.