In Focus
TECHNOLOGY | Kevin Santos, Australia
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Will QR codes become a mainstay in post-pandemic dining?

Chains are finding them an effective niche amidst a no-touch reality.

QR codes are experiencing a resurgence.

The squared codes, once labeled as ‘uncool’, ‘clunky’ and ‘generic’, are making their steady way to the top of restaurants’ digital checklists as consumers continue to embrace contactless experiences in the name of health, safety and social distancing.

Across markets, acceptance has waved around over the years since QR codes were created in the ‘90s. But now, it has been realised as a reliable way to check digital menus, place orders, pay and, in some cases, even help with dine-in contact tracing.

Australia’s restaurants have been more than keeping up with this accelerated trend, using them in various ways.

McDonald’s, for example, placed QR codes on their tables in some states where people are told to submit their details to comply with Government guidance.

Vietnamese fast casual chain Roll’d has been selling four different ready-made home kits, which feature QR codes that will point to a range of cooking demonstration videos that are available in multiple languages.

In a previous webinar held by QSR Media, Mad Mex founder & CEO Clovis Young said their updated app has also integrated the use of QR codes in-store, allowing customers to scan codes at tables.

A safer dine-in experience, supporting restaurant demand
Market research company IbisWorld expects the restaurant industry to rise at an annualised 2.1% over the five years through 2025-26, to reach $20.6 billion. In an interview with one of their analysts, QR code technology is likely to support the recovery in consumer confidence by making dining-in experience safer for customers and, in turn, play a role in supporting demand for restaurants.

“Additionally, as restaurants continue to integrate QR code technology for contactless ordering over the next five years, it will likely improve customer turnaround and volumes. QR codes also improve customer convenience for ordering takeaway by removing the process of waiting in line,” senior industry analyst Matthew Barry told QSR Media.

Whilst contactless ordering is improving the speed and efficiency of order fulfilment at restaurants, Barry expects more premium restaurants to be “less likely” to adopt this type of technology as this type of establishments “focus more on customer experience and interaction.”

But for Barry, incentives in using the tech go beyond the ordering process.

“QR codes are becoming an essential marketing tool...as they make it easier for customers to access the restaurant's menu, website, promotions and more. Restaurant chains, such as McDonalds, have already started using QR codes for promotional deals and redeeming special offers in-store,” he explained, also citing McDonald’s example of having used QR codes for its Monopoly promotion, attracting more customers to download their app.

QR codes as “single most important policy measure”
Tom Green, Restaurant & Catering Industry Association’s (R&CA) manager for policy and government, calls the use of QR codes as “the single most important policy measure” that will keep hospitality businesses open throughout the pandemic.

“It is safe to assume that tracking and tracing will be a requirement until there is an effective vaccine and venues should be prepared to use them in the medium to long term,” he told QSR Media.

Notwithstanding the health regulations put in place by various state governments, Green acknowledged the opportunities it presented to QSRs as contactless ordering remains a key trend.

R&CA, which earlier said the industry was “100 percent” behind QR codes, recommended three steps for COVID-safe check-ins.

First, businesses are told to ask diners to check-in using a digital check-in tool before they are seated and to display QR Codes both at the front of the venue and on menus.

Second, staff are to be ensured that as part of their regular steps of service, ‘check the tick’ of each diner at the table by checking each diner can verify that they have completed the check-in process.

Third, making sure businesses can provide clean pens and paper for check-in for diners who cannot use a digital check-in service. Regularly sanitising pens between uses is also prescribed.

“We have seen many examples within chains where businesses and staff understand how important the QR code is,” Green added.

But whether the use of QR codes for recording customers' details and tracking the spread of the virus will continue in the long-run, Barry said this depends on whether the virus is contained.

Certain, however, is how these codes will go beyond pandemic-era dining.

“QR codes offer a range of benefits for restaurants and are projected to continue to be adopted over the next five years. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to accelerate the acceptance of contactless ordering and use QR codes for digital menus,” he said. ###

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