One diner’s perspective on this COVID-accelerated trend.
Efficiency is a hallmark of the Japanese way. So it’s no surprise QR code menus have become popular at ramen and other Asian restaurants, accelerated by the low-touch requirements of the COVID era. This raises a question, however: for whom is it efficient?
What started as a fun alternative for me quickly became tiresome and a detriment to my dining experience. Apparently many others agree: a TimeOut-Twitter Poll of New York diners showed only 30 percent love QR code menus, while 70 percent say “bring back paper menus!”
I’m tech savvy, but my first experience with QR code ordering and payment, at the fabulous Menya Shono in San Rafael, California, was frustrating. It took me a while to get accustomed to the software and menu hierarchy. Once I did, I still hit the wrong back button which erased my selections. My two Ramen club buddies ordered separately, but that staggered the delivery of our meals.
Ordering another item mid-meal requires an entirely new payment. We’d figured out the system’s limits by our third visit, ordered all on one phone, and the food arrived together. Still, the ability to pay with two or more credit cards isn’t available.
Luckily the ramen-focused menu at Menya Shono is limited and easy to navigate, far from the vast multi-dish selection at Shinya Shokudo in Seattle. Navigating this menu on a 6-inch screen is challenging. My wife actually gave up and asked me to do the ordering. Luckily our waitress confirmed our order in person before relaying it to the kitchen (food was good, BTW).
Like anything technology-related, the software and user interface (UI) are key. Get them wrong and the intended benefit quickly fades. This is where the QR code process often breaks down for me.
My most elegant QR code experience was at Ippudo in Berkeley, California, where you scan the online menu but order from your waitperson, paying them directly at the end of your meal. Unless the menu is huge, this seems to be the best approach. Doing all three required actions on the phone – read, select and pay – can turn the fun and anticipatory element of dining into a bit of a chore.
Hopefully paper menus won’t become a luxury, but If QR code menus are here to stay, my suggestions are: get the software right, limit the function to menu reading, but leave ordering and paying to your waitperson.
To answer my original question: QR code menus are efficient for restaurant owners, and in this now post-COVID timeframe I empathize with restaurants trying to get back to normal business. For many diners however, it’s not efficient and comes at a cost.
I don’t expect a fine-dining experience at a ramen restaurant, but I hope the human element of dining doesn’t get further diminished. Even at the simplest of places, I want the pleasure of being served. And don’t we already spend too much time on our phones anyway?