Fifteen minutes of their epidemic fame ended.
Remember 2020, when we were thrilled to dine al fresco after a three-month shutdown? Picking up a QR code and seeing the restaurant menu pop up on your phone seemed like fun at the time.
At the time, it was mistakenly believed that the coronavirus was spread by surface contact. Post-vaccine QR rolls belong to the ashes of pandemic history, along with scavenging mail and dumping takeout containers in hand sanitizer.
But the menu alternatives that look like Rorschach inkblots refuse to die. Plenty of people in the industry continue to use QR codes stubbornly and irrationally, angering customers who face more and more sprawling menus. Forcing you to stare at your iPhone before your first sip of wine can suck the joy right out of the meal — indoors or out.
“Dining out should be fun and relaxing. QR codes kill the mood and turn what should be a fun experience into a chore,” said New York communications consultant Rachel Antman, who loves to eat out frequently.
“When I scan a QR code at a restaurant, it reminds me of the check-in number at kiosks that offer rapid COVID tests,” she said.
Jeremy Wladys, who owns Good Enough to Eat and Harvest Kitchen on the Upper West Side, has long ditched QR codes because customers have “never fallen in love” at his Columbus Avenue locations. He can’t wait to switch from QR menus to paper menus at Fred’s, a popular burger and beer restaurant in Amsterdam and West 83d Street he just bought. The previous owners were still using QR.
At Shan’s ultra-trendy Szechuan spot on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, the long list requires multiple intense passes. One of the managers explained to us, “It’s easier to change the menu” from day to day as dishes are added and dropped.
Easier for them – not for us. What a pleasure, having waited up to an hour for seats, to pick your way through the variations of Shan Ma La’s bowl on a 2 x 3 inch screen!
The Three Monkeys Midtown craft beer store takes things a step further, offering 36 beers to scroll, plus a zillion tacos, flatbreads, bowls, salads, small plates, large plates, cocktails, and wines—all in separate categories. Just what you need when you desperately need a bite.
For my friend Shelley Clark, a publicist in Manhattan, the bickering of dishes and drinks proved to be a frustrating exercise in Drum, the well-established nightclub/restaurant on A Street.
“Here is the menu,” the employee said coldly, pointing to the barely visible little QR code.
“The room is dimly lit, because it’s a viewing place,” Clark points out. It exhausted her and her companion’s patience as they tried to target the code with their phones and then peruse menus of falafel and German sausage dishes in the dark.
“Two customers were definitely indignant,” she laughed.
Drom did not respond to requests for comment. Other restaurants gave flimsy explanations.
“The menu is outdated, it changes all the time,” the waiter at the popular Turkish Mediterranean Mezze Blue Mezze Bar on Upper Second Avenue told us last week.
Weird – their assortment, heavy on samples of the mezze and falafel looked exactly as I had remembered it months ago.
Said a manager at Tartina, an Italian cafe on Amsterdam Street near West 110th St. He said they are still using QR codes for “safety reasons”, but he did not give further details. He said they might switch to paper when the seasonal menu changes in a few months – and that can’t come too soon.
Do they pinch pennies on paper and print? Restaurant veterans say any meager savings are wiped out by the fact that customers spend less when they order from QR menus.
Mercer Street Hospitality founder John McDonald, who uses paper menus at the cool New Mexican bistro Bar Tulix, as well as the Lure Fishbar and Bowery Meat Company, estimated that a medium-sized restaurant could save $5,000 a year using QR codes. That’s the peanuts compared to what they might end up losing: McDonald’s found that his customers spend 15% to 20% more on ordering than on paper menus.
The spending gap, he said, is probably because printed menus allow customers to “see the entire board” at a glance, rather than having to sift through categories one by one on a QR.
“I can’t imagine any savings that would convince anyone of their desire to just do the code and not actually read a properly designed list at hand,” MacDonald said.
The strangest politics may be on the menu at the chic Macdougal Street wine bar Niche Niche. A friend was perplexed when he was told that food was only displayed by a QR code – even though there were wine lists printed on the tables.
He said, “I thought it was a quarrel.” “But they didn’t explain why.”
He was so annoyed, he didn’t stay to try wine or food. Niche Niche is no longer ours. They didn’t even send a QR code.