I have been getting complaints about our QR code menu, and people keep asking for paper. Is it even worth doing a digital menu anymore?
— Server, Chicago
Electronic menus have been a fixture of the COVID restaurant table. They bring a lot of benefits to operators: no costs for printing (or reprinting after you catch those inevitable errors); no need to spread word among the servers if an item is 86’d, just take it down; pricing can be tweaked easily (a bonus given our current food price volatility); and no need to clean or discard hard copies as they get soiled.
But guests can be less enthusiastic. Bad cell phone reception, web design that's hard to read on a phone, customers who prefer to “unplug” at dinner and poor navigation have led some guests and food writers to request a return to printed menus.
If you’re going to stick to digital, here are some best practices:
- Make sure you have free, open and strong Wi-Fi. It frustrates guests from the outset if they are told to scan a QR code but first have to fumble with a complicated case-sensitive P@$$W0rd!, the pages don’t load or your network is named the same thing as your router (“No, ma’am, it’s G7VD4, not X7HB6”).
- Make sure your electronic menu is designed for mobile. It seems basic, but many online menus are developed by web or graphic designers who use a big, beautiful desktop, leading the menu to look less wonderful on a tiny phone screen.
- Have paper handy. For ADA compliance, network outages or simply good hospitality, make paper menus available as requested.
As to whether digital or paper is the way to go, I encourage operators to see things from guests’ perspective rather than their own. Given your concept, what kind of hospitality do they expect and how does your menu format fit into that?
A digital menu works great at a busy beer hall with rotating taps and the ability to click to learn more about the offerings. Less so at a stoic fine dining concept known for business meetings. A good way to test the waters is to offer both print and digital formats and see where guests gravitate. If they say “Oh, QR is great,” you’re good to go, but if the majority ask for a paper menu, it is time to rethink your strategy.
More on the pros and cons of digital menus and QR codes here.