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From Paper to Pixels: The Battle Over QR Menus  

During COVID, QR codes felt like a godsend. Rather than a menu that you didn’t really know had been wiped down, a QR code gave you a truly contactless experience. In the years since, QR codes have stuck around, while our fears of contagion have not.

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Scanning these matrix barcodes provides instant access to menus, payment systems, and other services. Many establishments have embraced the technology, aiming to increase efficiency and minimize physical contact, but an increasing number of customers are resisting the change. This resistance highlights a complex interplay between new tech and consumer resistance.

The Rise of QR Codes in Restaurants

QR codes were initially popularized in the automotive industry in Japan during the 1990s. Their adoption in the restaurants surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, as businesses sought contactless solutions to avoid spreading the virus. By scanning a QR code placed at their table, customers could view the menu, place orders, and even pay for their meals without any physical interaction with staff or shared surfaces.

Offering menus by QR code offers some additional benefits to restaurants. They are naturally cheaper to manage, with no need to wipe down menus or print/laminate new ones when they wear out. They also make it a lot easier to change prices, an attractive feature in the Age of Inflation!

Additionally, digital menus can enhance customer engagement by incorporating high-quality images, detailed descriptions, and even customer reviews. However, those benefits can clash with customers who just don’t want to deal with them at dinner.

Customer Resistance

Despite their benefits, many customers have expressed frustration and reluctance to use QR codes in restaurants. This resistance stems from various factors, including technology fatigue, accessibility issues, and a desire for personal interaction.

Tech Fatigue

In an era where screens dominate daily life, many of us experience technology fatigue. Constant exposure to tech—whether for work, social interaction, or entertainment—has led to a yearning for more tangible, offline experiences. Dining out, traditionally a respite from the digital world, is becoming another place where technology intrudes.

That feeling is especially strong among older demographics, who may not be as comfortable or familiar with using smartphones for tasks beyond basic communication.


QR code technology, while seemingly straightforward, has its challenges for customers. For those with visual impairments, using QR codes can be daunting or impossible. Some may just feel intimidated by the unfamiliar technology. For those who are dining without their smartphones, the experience ends before they can order an appetizer.

1 in 10 Adults still say no to smartphones
Pew Research Center

A hefty portion of the American public simply doesn’t have a smartphone. This digital divide is more pronounced among older adults, rural residents, and those with lower incomes. For these groups, QR code menus effectively exclude them from the dining experience.

Talk to Me!

Dining out is about more than just eating; it’s a deeply social activity, as old as our culture itself. The presence of waitstaff providing recommendations, answering questions, and engaging in small talk is a significant part of the experience for many diners. So is leaning toward your partner to point at a tasty menu item.

QR codes, by reducing the need for human interaction, can make the dining experience feel impersonal and transactional. For some, that means a less satisfying experience.

Bridging the Gap

Restaurants face a conundrum: they have this useful new tool for a better menu and payment experience, but many customers just aren’t convinced. Alienating a segment of the customer base—particularly loyal diners who may be less tech-savvy—can negatively impact business. A strong QR code strategy requires a nuanced approach that considers these diverse needs and expectations.

To bridge the gap between technological innovation and customer satisfaction, restaurants can adopt several strategies:

Hybrid Solutions

Great businesses respect preferences, promote inclusivity, and provide options.

Offering both digital and traditional paper menus can cater to a wider audience. Hybrid solutions allow tech-savvy customers to enjoy the convenience of QR codes while providing an alternative for those who prefer or need a physical menu.

One strategy that makes sense it to offer a physical menu along with a QR code payment option. This feature is likely to meet less resistance from customers, as it makes it easier to pay quickly or split the check.

Staff Training, Clear Communication

Training staff to assist customers with QR code technology can lessen some of their resistance. By offering help proactively, restaurants can ensure that all customers, regardless of their technological proficiency, feel comfortable and supported. This can also keep the human touch that many diners value.

Restaurants should clearly communicate the benefits of QR code menus, such as increased hygiene and the ability to access additional menu item info. They can especially highlight how payment and ordering is faster and more efficient with the tech.

Most importantly, customers shouldn’t feel like QR codes are being forced on them. If they don’t want it, provide other options!

COCARD: Meeting Diverse Needs

Times are changing, and new technologies hit the market every day. Sometimes customers jump right in, and sometimes they dip one toe at a time. At COCARD, we believe in letting the customer decide what works for them and making every option available in the meantime.

Our POS platforms offer restaurants and other businesses full QR code integration, from ordering drinks to paying the check. We also offer every other payment method they might prefer!

Get in touch today to learn how COCARD meets customers where they are, with the best payment and CRM suite on the market.

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