Apr 10, 2023 - Food and Drink

Twin Cities restaurants retreat from QR codes

Illustration of the back of a smart phone with a knife and fork on either side of the camera lens, as if the lens were a plate.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Some Twin Cities restaurants are rethinking or retiring QR code menus in response to backlash from customers.

The big picture: The technology popped up early in the pandemic, as restaurants looked for ways to cut down on "high touch" points and in-person contact between patrons and servers.

  • For restaurants, the shift saved money and time spent on printing menus and, in cases where a phone is used to order and pay, staff.

Yes, but: It turns out many diners despise the technology. An Axios Twin Cities call for reader opinions on the topic generated more than 180 responses, the vast majority of which were negative.

  • "Have you ever tried bringing your grandmother to a restaurant and having her order off of an iPhone menu?" Andrew S. wrote. "It is not a pleasant experience."

What's happening: A number of local establishments that tried the QR codes have since returned to traditional menus over concerns that the reliance on smartphones "disrupts the hospitality dynamic," Hospitality Minnesota’s Ann Kirby told Axios.

Zoom in: Troy Reding, who owns a restaurant group that includes Holman's Table and Rock Elm Tavern, estimates that QR code menus saved him $4,000 to $5,000 a year in printing costs for each location. But he ditched them last year after fielding customer complaints.

  • "A lot of people don't necessarily want to have their phones out," he told Axios. "They're used to a paper menu, having something in their hands."

Between the lines: Even some restaurants that reversed course are still using QR codes in some capacity. Reding kept it for tap beer menus, which change more frequently, and he uses the technology for marketing promotions.

  • Others are taking a hybrid approach. Urban Growler Brewing offers smartphone and laminated menus at its St. Paul outpost, which switched to counter service after the pandemic.
  • Owner Jill Pavlak said using both gives customers options while preserving in-person interaction for placing orders.

The other side: Several local restaurants that do use QR codes for menus and placing orders declined or did not respond to requests for comment. But the technology does have defenders.

  • "You can get your order in at your own pace, have it set to pay and leave when you are ready," reader Nate P. wrote.

What we're watching: Kirby said some local restaurateurs are open to exploring new uses for the technology, as long as it "fits with their hospitality ethos."

  • Reding, for example, said he's explored giving patrons the option to pay via QR at the table instead of waiting for a paper bill.

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