In the last two years, we’ve seen QR Code usage explode. Shifting customer willingness to use QR codes (and smartphones supporting them without a third-party app) has been pushed forward considerably in the western world by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Restaurant & Bar owners can now feel comfortable offering QR-only menus or supplementing their physical menu with a QR-code digital menu option. Given the restaurant industry has suffered extreme loss over the last 1.5 years, it's exciting to dive into something that can help it bounce back.
What is a QR Code?
Quick response (QR) codes are machine-readable matrix barcodes originally designed and developed by Denso Wave Incorporated in 1994. QR codes are like barcodes but can store data vertically and horizontally. Due to the fact they can store data in both directions, it enables a much larger amount of information to be stored in them compared to traditional barcodes. The most common examples of this are URLs, text, shortcodes, etc.
Japan and China were much quicker to adopt QR codes than the West. QR codes, for example in China, have been a part of everyday life for a long time, with most people using them in daily activities like shopping, social networking, mobile person-to-person payments, ticketing, etc.
The most common way people read these codes is using smartphones. Given most people now own a smartphone (85% in 2021 vs. 35% in 2011), it is a very safe bet to assume most of your customers will be able to use your freshly minted QR code.
One benefit of using a QR code and pointing it to a URL is you can always change the underlying content that the user sees because it is not stored in the QR Code itself. These are often referred to as “Dynamic QR Codes.”
Which devices support QR codes?
According to this article in Wired.com, most smartphones manufactured after 2018 should support QR Codes out of the box. If you own an iPhone, it could mean your older device is supported, too. Apple added support for QR codes in the iOS 11 update. This is good news generally because, as of June 2021, iOS 11 was reportedly installed on 90% of all iOS devices.
For Android users, the landscape is a little messier. Even though Google introduced QR code support in 2018 via Android 9, it will be down to your manufacturer's support policy of your device whether you a) even receive Android 9 b) the device has updates enabled.
We advise anyone having issues with customers unable to scan QR codes with their Android devices to either offer a fallback URL along with their QR code or instruct customers to install the Google Lens app for free, which has QR code scanning capabilities.
Why use a QR menu (aka a digital menu)?
There are considerable benefits to offering a QR code menu for your business. While physical menus are not going anywhere, the combination of digital menus and dynamic QR codes is here to stay.
We’ll cover some of the topics:
With paper menus, any changes require re-printing of your menus. This can require a lead time and frustrate customers if you have had to discontinue an item at short notice. With QR Code menus, you can update the menu content hosted elsewhere, and any subsequent scans of the code should show the latest version of your menu. This is one huge benefit of having a digital menu instead of a traditional paper menu.
Easy to organize
You can have multiple types of menus stored in one place. Depending on the way you have the code set up (more on this later), you ideally would have links for your customer to pick the right menu. Drinks, Breakfast, Sunday menus? No problem. No need to change those physical menus throughout the day either!
An essential thing to consider with switching to QR Code menus is the cost of printing. Depending on how often you update or completely replace your menus, this can run up to $1000s of dollars every year for restaurant owners. In addition to the slow update process, this can really eat into your margins.
No stained menus
Paper menus are perishable. By switching to digital QR code menus, you avoid handing your customers dirty or stained menus. Given how conscious people might be of this also due to COVID-19, it sounds like a great idea to ditch them and switch over to a contactless menu solution.
DIY: Using a free QR Code generator
It’s fairly easy to find a free QR code generator out there. One we have tried previously named QR Code Generator is here. They offer a basic QR code generator.
Linking the code to your website
Let’s say for a minute that your website, PaulsBistro.com, has a menu page available that you keep up to date. One option with this (and other) free tools is to make the code point directly to this page. If your menu page had the URL of PaulsBistro.com/menu, we’d do the following:
Now you are able to download a JPEG image of the QR code and print it out.
One downside of this approach is that you must keep your menu on your website up to date on that exact URL (page). If you have your menus designed professionally, this can add extra work due to you having to update two places separately. These are also known as static QR codes.
Another problem with this is if your website is not mobile-friendly or slow to load. It can frustrate your customers, especially if they don’t have the latest phone.
Uploading a PDF directly to your menu QR code
If you wish to upload a PDF file directly using this tool for free, you are out of luck. This is a premium feature on QR Code Generator (roughly 12.50 EUR at the time of writing, required to be paid annually upfront).
How to create a QR Code Menu on Gourmenu
Our solution for hosting and managing your QR code menus is simple to sign up for. Our QR code solution takes away the manual process of hosting your menu file somewhere, such as your website. You can easily upload the PDF, and we take care of the rest, removing the extra work involved for your restaurant menu updates.
Step 1: Sign up to Gourmenu
Head over to http://www.gourmenu.co and click the big “Sign Up” button.
On the next screen, fill in your details:
Step 2: Create your location (and QR code)
After this, you’ll now see the locations page. You can go ahead and create your new location:
Step 3: Upload your menu file directly to Gourmenu
You’ll now be on the QR listing page. You can quickly add a menu:
And then give your menu a name (such as Brunch), select File menu type:
Next, you’ll click Upload PDF file and select your menu.
(Note: make sure your PDF format looks good on a mobile device)
Finally, click on Create Menu.
Step 4: Preview your QR code on your mobile device
You can scan the QR code shown on the QR listing page or visit the Short URL below:
On your mobile device, you can see exactly what your customers will see:
In our case, for the Brunch menu item, when a user taps this, they’ll go straight to the PDF file:
How to print your QR Menu
From the QR listing page, you can visit the Printouts page:
You can then choose from NA Legal paper or the SVG (highest resolution) image:
The North American Legal printout is pre-designed to help your users visit no matter the age of the device.
The SVG image is perfect if you have a designer (or fancy yourself as one!) and plan to integrate it with your restaurant’s branding.
How to update your QR Menu
Once you’ve printed your QR Code menus, how can you update them? It’s a great question, and with Gourmenu, you have nothing to worry about.
Head back to your QR listing page:
On this screen, you can:
- Edit individual menus (great for a change of season!)
- Add additional menus (perhaps you’re doing Brunch now)
- Remove menus
Bonus: Adding contact tracing to your QR code menu
A free add-on offered with Gourmenu is the ability to request your guest's contact information for the sole purpose of contact tracing. This information will be requested immediately after your customer scans the QR code menu. It will look something like this:
How to enable contact tracing on your QR code menu
On your QR listing page, head to the Guest Visits menu item:
On the Guest Visits page, click the Settings button:
Here you can enable guest visits (contact tracing) and specify which fields are shown/required:
Once you have configured this to exactly how you'd like your customer to be prompted, go ahead and click Update Listing.
You can now test out your QR code on your mobile or in private browsing mode on your computer if you're still logged in to the Gourmenu dashboard.
Bonus x2: Sharing to your social media
One final thing Gourmenu enables you to do is share your Short URL wherever you like. This means you also can easily have this link on your social media profiles so users can see your menus quickly and easily on a mobile-friendly site.
For example, if our short URL is gour.menu/XYP3, we could add this link directly to our Instagram Bio. This saves the need for most restaurants to manage multiple menus (one on their website and one/multiple digital menus) that customers tend to look up hours (or days!) before their visit to your restaurant.