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QR Code Menus, COVID-19, and the New Normal

June 1, 2020
QR Code Menu

For the foreseeable future, things will be different. Businesses who embrace the change have a much higher chance of survival and success.

That’s because the public’s mindset has shifted. There is a new normal. And there is no sector in the country that’s going to experience the shift in consumer behavior and expectations more profoundly than hospitality.

Thankfully, for bars and restaurants, there is an existing technology to help with an important part of it. It’s tried-and-true, inexpensive, and easy to deploy. It’s the QR code.

Experts believe that QR codes in restaurants are crucial to the future of the hospitality industry. Of course, it makes your business cleaner and safer. But it also communicates to guests and potential guests that you take sanitation as seriously as anyone. Both are important to running a successful bar or restaurant now.

This post explores the new normal ushered in by COVID-19, what QR codes are, and how QR code menus help bars and restaurants.

COVID-19 and the New Normal

The way modern human beings interact and think about public spaces has forever changed. Even after the creation of reliable COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. That’s because, for the first time for virtually every generation, we’ve experienced the trauma of a true global pandemic.

The memory of this experience isn’t going anywhere. We’re now finally convinced that we’re vulnerable to any one of the countless pathogens, known and unknown, that circulate around our planet. We now also know that there is only one true way to protect ourselves against current and future threats of infection. That’s to prevent infection in the first place.

So we’ve begun a new normal. It has three distinguishing features. 

A Focus on Personal Hygiene

Most people were surprised at how long 20 seconds felt when washing their hands. A Michigan State University study in 2013 found that 95% of people in public restrooms did not wash their hands long enough to kill infection-causing germs. Our inadequate hygienic practices were completely exposed by how easily this pandemic spread. They’ll likely change forever.

The Adoption of Social Distancing

When the coronavirus outbreak started spreading across the U.S., “flatten the curve” became a household phrase. To keep new cases from skyrocketing and overwhelming healthcare systems, every state adopted some version of a stay-at-home order in late March 2020. 

Data shows that those social distancing measures helped slow the spread of the virus. During those weeks, the average time it took new cases, nationally, to double went from 2.3 days to 3.8 days. As the country continued social distancing and the curve continued to flatten, almost everyone was convinced of its value. Social distancing works. Our new normal won’t be quarantine. But it will almost certainly involve more critical thinking about how close we are to each other and how often.

Seeking out Contactless Commerce

Before the COVID-19 crisis in America, a Futurist Group study reported 30% of adults surveyed wanted contactless payments. In late April, MasterCard released the results of an online survey of 17,000 consumers. 79% of those surveyed by MasterCard are now using contactless payments and citing cleanliness and safety as the reasons. This is social distancing applied to consumer behavior. People are hesitant to interact with public or shared property, and that includes both cash and all types of menu. And they’ll likely think twice about it for the foreseeable future.

So, what’s an easy, inexpensive solution for bars and restaurants to adopt right now to help get aligned with the new normal?

Enter the QR Code

QR codes aren’t new. They first showed up in 1994. They were created by a Toyota subsidiary to help track vehicles and parts during manufacturing.

But now they’re used to instantly direct anyone who scans them to any type of online digital content. They are one of the simplest ways for businesses to embrace the consumer preference for social distancing. Here are some of their many benefits:

  • They can be used for anything and everything. A QR code is a barcode. Its job is to encode information, then provide that information when scanned. As such, that information can be anything. It can be an image, a URL, payment or login information, or any other sort of document or data. That means any kind of menu, too. Table d’hote, a la carte, prix fixe, and all others.
  • They are contactless. Viewing a bar or restaurant menu via a QR code, for example, is cleaner and safer by orders of magnitude than a paper menu. It’s also better than a digital menu on a tablet. There is literally no physical interaction between the guest and other property. Their phone scans the code, and the information shows up on their phone.
  • They are inexpensive to create and use. Creating a QR code for a digital wine list, to use an example close to home, is a simple and inexpensive process. And the maintenance and upkeep involved is minimal.
  • The public is now familiar with them. In the 1990s and early 2000s, people sometimes looked at QR codes sideways. But they’re firmly a part of our technological experience now. Everyone knows what they are, and everyone is able to scan them with their phones.

The QR code is so useful at preventing the spread of pathogens that the Chinese government used the format to give hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens QR health codes. These scannable color-coded QR codes were relied upon heavily by China when effectively combating the initial stages of the outbreak.

If they can play a part in saving a country, they can help your bar or restaurant business.

The QR Code Menu for Restaurants

Restaurant cleanliness was already paramount for diners when deciding where to spend their time and money. A pre-COVID-19 study found that 75% of people stay away from bars and restaurants with negative reviews about cleanliness. It was already a high number, and in no universe has it gone down.

Studies also find that paper restaurant menus are the single filthiest thing on a restaurant table. For that reason, the National Restaurant Association recommends that paper menus be discarded after each use. People are aware of restaurants’ cleanliness and the grim place physical menus hold in that context.

You can be sure that all the people out there who read reviews about restaurant cleanliness will deeply appreciate a contactless QR code menu. It’s a signal to them to tell them you are taking sanitation as seriously as possible.

According to Professor Cihan Cobanoglu, director of the M3 Center for Hospitality & Innovation at the University of South Florida, “contactless menus will be a key point for restaurants to adopt.” To both keep businesses as clean and safe as possible and align with consumer expectations.

The benefits of bars and restaurants using touchless QR code menus is staggering.

  • QR code menus dramatically increase your bar or restaurant’s cleanliness and safety
  • They completely align with the social distancing and contactless expectations of the new normal
  • This particular piece of restaurant technology is not expensive nor hard to implement
  • You do not incur mountains of printing and paper costs replacing paper menus because of safety reasons or inaccuracies
  • You can update your digital menu instantly so it’s always accurate
  • They’re far more accessible for customers, who can access them immediately whenever they scan the QR code
  • There is minimal environmental impact
  • Their usage can be tracked and analyzed, which can help with menu engineering and other data-based decision making

There is literally no reason not to adopt QR menus for your bar or restaurant right now.

QR Code Menus Help

The coronavirus has radically reoriented how consumers behave. They’re now even more conscious of where they dine and what they touch.

That’s why QR menus are an easy, actionable step to take for bars and restaurants. They’re dynamic, clean, and inexpensive. They save time and money. They help you emphasize your industry-leading sanitation practices. They're a great resource to activate right now.

They will play an important role in mending the hospitality industry. Give them a try and you’ll see firsthand.