Discover more from The Daly Grind
A Victory for Dining Traditionalism
QR-code menus are on the way out.
Several years ago, a new hot-sandwich/burger restaurant opened in town. My family eventually got around to checking it out, and found that it was set up like a fast-food or food-court joint. You ordered your meal at the counter, took a number, found a seat, and then a server would bring you your food once it was ready.
Nothing too complex or unusual, right?
But there was a significant difference between this restaurant, and every other restaurant I had ever been to. At least, it was significant to me.
Rather than ordering your sandwich or burger, and then telling the employee which condiments you wanted on it, the restaurant instructed that you ordered in the opposite direction. Condiments first. Then the type of bun/bread. Then the type of meat. None of the sandwiches or burgers had actual names. Only ingredients were listed on the step-by-step wall-menu, again beginning with condiment choices and ending with meat choices.
I can’t emphasize enough just how much this messed with my mind. It was so completely unnatural to me. As we got closer in line to the counter, I found myself paralyzed with indecision. What felt like an episode of Seinfeld was suddenly my reality, and my wife could tell I was frustrated and out of sorts. She soon suggested we just go to a different, nearby restaurant for lunch. I was immediately onboard with that idea. We left and never came back.
We don’t know if the food there was even any good, but within six months the restaurant had shut down. I have to believe that the novel ordering method, which some higher-ups on the business side of the establishment clearly thought was a uniquely attractive idea, was at least one reason why.
I was reminded of that incident the other day as I was reading a New York Times article. The piece was about how restaurants had moved away from paper menus during the pandemic, and instead required customers to scan a QR-code to pull up their menu on a Smart Phone. This was because COVID-19 was originally believed to spread through surface contact, in addition to air transmission. I’m sure almost everyone reading today’s ‘Daly Grind’ remembers using hand-wipes to disinfect groceries, doorknobs, and even mail at the beginning of the health crisis.
Science relatively quickly debunked that belief, but it took a heck of a long time for government and business guidelines to catch up. QR-codes in restaurants remained common over the next couple of years, and the process was widely believed to be the future of dine-out ordering… even after the pandemic eventually ended. With nearly everyone owning a Smart Phone these days, and it being an instrumental part of many people’s lives, it was easy to understand why.
But as it turned out, customers en masse didn’t like them. A consensus has formed among customers and servers alike that QR-code ordering zaps the joy out of dining.
“Fewer restaurants are creating new QR menus,” a restaurant-printing company rep is quoted in the piece. “And about 75 percent of their existing QR codes are essentially dormant…”
Amelia Nierenberg, the author of the article, writes:
The motivation for the about-face is simple, restaurateurs said: Diners just hate QR-code menus… One reason is etiquette. Everyone knows it’s rude to take a phone out at a table, but that’s what a digital menu demands. And having to make a special request for a paper menu is awkward. No one wants to be That Guy. Another drawback to the coded menu is its feel. As the pandemic ebbs, restaurants are trying to coax people to eat out, and the seduction of a dining room is part of the get — dusky candlelight and uninterrupted, eye-to-eye conversation. A QR code can kill the mood: phones up, blue lights on, conviviality off.
…It also remains a mystery to many tech-averse diners. “A lot of our customers were like, ‘What is this? I don’t know how to use it,’” said Luly Valls, a third-generation owner of Versailles, the famed Cuban restaurant in Miami. “They’re older. They were like, ‘Give me a paper menu.’”
In other words, QR-code menus just aren’t… natural.
Though I’m probably not as technologically averse (or as old) as the people Valls is describing (though I’ve been known to joke to the contrary), I feel their pain. I like a paper menu with a decent-sized font. I spend too much time squinting at my phone as it is. I’m not a strict traditionalist, but I am a simple person. I want to relax and have conversations when I’m dining out. I want to order my meat before my condiments, dammit!
The good news is that, as the free market is demonstrating, I’m far from alone.
What’s your biggest restaurant hangup? Let me know in an email or in the comment section below.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Uncle Rusty came over for a slumber party.
Have you picked up your copy of RESTITUTION?
Interested in a signed copy? You can order one (or five) here.
Already read and enjoyed it? I’d love if you could leave a review for the book on Amazon.
This week, I’m doing a first-time “Featured Vinyl” throwback in honor of the great Tina Turner, who passed away last week.
Pretty much everyone who was into pop or rock in the mid 80s owned the Private Dancer album. I liked it for the melodic grit in Turner’s voice, especially on the song “What's Love Got to Do with It.” I also appreciated that audio cassettes had been popularized by then, so that I could more easily conceal the racy cover-art from my parents (who were still uncomfortable over the Flashdance soundtrack I’d purchased on 12-inch vinyl a year earlier).
But when I got back into vinyl a few decades later, I picked this one up for $2 at a record store. It really is a solid album, and Tina was of course super-cool in her first mainstream success as a solo artist.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
Want to drop me a line? You can email me at email@example.com, and also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, please click on the “Subscribe now” button below. Doing so will get these posts emailed directly to you.
Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books, you can order them directly from my website.
Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!