Restaurants in the post-COVID world: QR Code menus + other actionable strategies to reopen
While restaurants are eager to formulate a robust post-crisis plan, the evolving consumer behavior makes this hard to do. In this blog post, I talk about the expected change in consumer behavior and how restaurants can adapt to keep their doors open post-lockdown.
Last Updated:  November 17, 2023
While the world is still working on finding a definitive solution for the novel Coronavirus, social distancing has proved to be significant in mitigating its spread.
This, however, has impacted the restaurants massively.
Even with Starbucks creating more distance between tables in China, one cannot expect to welcome the same footfall, post-lockdown. Restaurants have to rethink their business model and find new ways to serve their customers.
One of the major concerns for restaurants right now is to start using disposable menus. However, with the unprecedented loss in revenue over the past couple of months, disposable menus aren’t cost-effective.
Instead, digital QR Code menus have emerged as the best solution. You upload your restaurant’s menu in the PDF format and convert it into a QR Code.
While restaurants want to formulate a robust post-crisis plan, the evolving consumer behavior makes this hard to do. In this blog post, I will talk about the expected change in consumer behavior and how restaurants can adapt to keep their doors open post-lockdown.
Re-aligning restaurant strategies – post lockdown
#1. Contactless is the way forward – touch-free menus, delivery & pickups – it all adds up
QR Code menu: Upload your menu as a PDF and convert it into a contactless menu
Whether it is driving through the restaurant to pick up food, or dining in with distant tables, consumers will refrain from touching physical menus that go through multiple hand exchanges.
QR Codes have been instrumental in implementing contactless menus at restaurants. There are a couple of ways to implement this –
2. Enable taking orders: A QR Code pointing to a form
Create a form that lists the items on the menu and their quantity. When a customer scans the QR Code, she chooses the dishes she wants to order and submits the form. The staff inside the restaurant receives the order and processes it.
3. A virtual menu powered by QR Codes
Grocery stores are drifting towards virtual stores where consumers can shop while they commute. There are huge billboards on either side of the pathway with the products listed. While consumers are on their way to work or back, they can stop, scan, and shop.
A similar idea can be implemented for restaurants where consumers can pick the dish from a virtual menu, scan the QR Code against and place an order.
Contactless off-premise delivery
Consider partnering with a food delivery app that gives the option to drop the food package on the doorstep.
Contactless takeaway, curbside pickups or drive-through
Even after COVID fades, consumers would still want to minimize human contact. To continue serving them, restaurants will have to switch to contactless takeaway and pickups.
If you’re thinking about using an online ordering system that enables you to accept contactless deliveries and pickups, then you can use this list of online ordering systems as a starting point.
Canlis in Seattle, popular for fine-dining for 70 years, has already narrowed its menu and switched to a drive-through option. And it’s been working well for them! According to reports, Canlis sold 500 bagels in 90 mins!
According to a recent consumer study by Datassential, most consumers would still consider drive-through to be a safer option, viewing their cars as a protective barrier.
If you look at the numbers closely, you will notice, boomers and above, who are most fearful of the Coronavirus, are open to driving through to pick their orders.
Based on these numbers and your target audience you can choose the online delivery solution that works best for your business.
Since the onset of COVID-19, our business has had to pivot significantly to keep our doors open. We’ve built and implemented an online ordering system for curbside, no-contact pickup and delivery. We also began a major marketing push to sell 230 bags of Little Waves Coffee every day.
Alyssa Noble, Communications Specialist for Durham ,NC-based Cocoa Cinnamon cafes & the affiliated coffee roastery, LittleWaves Coffee Roasters
#2. Hygiene to beat taste, and restaurants need to convey that post-lockdown
COVID-19 has given rise to a new benchmarking parameter for restaurants, hygiene rating. Restaurants will have to go the extra mile to convince customers about their hygiene standards.
5-star ratings which were earlier indicative of taste and ambiance, primarily, will no longer be sufficient.
“Your marketing message in the post-COVID era will be less about your chicken and more about hygiene. Hygiene will change after the COVID-19 pandemic the way security changed after the 9/11 terror attacks”
Anurag Katiyar, president of the National Restaurant Association of India.
Hygiene ratings have already taken over generic ratings.
Two of India’s major food tech platforms, Zomato and Swiggy are already emphasizing the hygiene standards of the restaurants. Zomato recently reported that consumers are filtering restaurants with a hygiene rating on the app and those with a strong hygiene rating see about 20-25% increase in visibility and orders.
Various countries have made QR Codes mainstream when it comes to collecting or displaying hygiene standards. One such example is Dubai, where each restaurant should have a QR Code to display their food safety standards.
Using QR Codes to collect hygiene rating – Integrating a QR Code API with the food delivery app is one of the fastest ways to scale hygiene rating collection. If you are already listed on a food delivery app, or a restaurant aggregator platform, that mentions hygiene rating, make sure you do not miss the opportunity of amassing feedback and ratings.
Hygiene rating is not just restricted to delivery apps.
Consumers are more likely to trust restaurants that are transparent about their sanitization standards.
“We’ve made a video that shows how we package everything, bring it out to the car and put the package where our guests ask us too.”
Kyle, the owner of La La Taqueria in Larchmont
Initiatives like these are appreciated by customers and give them the confidence to come back.
Taking a step forward, Rebel Foods recently introduced a live body temperature tracker on its app. This keeps the consumers informed about the delivery executive handling their food.
#3. Home cooking is making a comeback in COVID times. Restaurateurs – ready, set, go!
Yes, you read that right! The trend of people cooking at home is likely to continue post-lockdown. Therefore, Pizza houses like Middlebury Pizzeria, are now selling mini pizza kits that include dough and the toppings.
Given that families are cooking together and are seeking collaborative opportunities, it is a brilliant idea that other restaurants can replicate. For food joints that have an elaborate cooking process can also deliver partially cooked ingredients.
A personalized note from the chef that gives cooking instructions will be helpful. Even better, if you could use a QR Code to point to the chef’s step-by-step cooking video!
If you deliver bigger portions, you could also give stock-up options.
During the lockdown, consumers tend to order extra so that they can stock up for the next day. This is especially rampant with females, millennials, and GenX.
However, that’s not the best option when it comes to hygiene and eating to build immunity. Therefore, restaurants should reduce the portion and send the rest as half-cooked ingredients.
#4. Position your restaurant as a safe place to gather, post-lockdown
At Beaconstac, we did a quick Instagram survey to understand consumer concerns, post-lockdown. One of the poll questions was – “When you visit a restaurant post-lockdown, will it be important to know if anyone around is carrying symptoms?”
92% of them said YES.
One of the replies that we got on the Instagram poll was –
“I would be pleased to go through a thorough check-up before entering a restaurant. This would give me the confidence that everyone around has gone through the same procedure and I am safe while I am there“
Charles Hall, Chicago
To battle the concerns consumers have, restaurants have to take additional steps to make them feel safe. To assure that no one around is carrying COVID symptoms, one of the easiest ways is to screen everyone at entry points. It could be done by using thermal scanners, cameras, or a basic online form declaring their health conditions and travel history.
Wynn resorts recently announced using thermal cameras to detect infected guests.
Similarly, Sichuan Impressions, a restaurant rooted in Los Angeles, is measuring the temperature of each guest using an infrared thermometer.
Most businesses, including restaurants, are using self-declaration forms at entry points to filter diners. While the virus spreads through contaminated surfaces, using manual visitor forms or digital screens to take inputs is not recommended. Instead, use contactless visitor forms powered by QR Codes.
#5. Flip the switch – Choose digital channels over walk-ins
While the restaurant industry has been hammered by COVID-19, a surprisingly large number has already weathered the storm by shifting to digital platforms like social media, a website and digital ordering.
Here’s a snapshot of Google Trends to visualize how things have turned upside down compared to what it was 3 months ago.
Consumers are already comfortable texting or interacting with chatbots. Placing an order through a series of text messages and prompts is easy and more importantly – contactless.
Deseo, a Warsaw-based gourmet confectionary is an excellent case study to understand how a tight-knit community on Facebook can help restaurants stay afloat in these unprecedented times.
As a result of moving their business on Facebook, this confectionery not just stood strong in Warsaw but also expanded to other large cities in Poland, Deseo collected orders on Facebook, set up delivery slots, clubbed them and delivered orders.
Here are a few examples and inspirations that Facebook recently shared on their blog
How to show social media ads to customers who ordered previously?
With things moving online the scope for data collection widens. Let’s look at an example – A family, the Greens, settled in New York places an order for an egg sandwich from Lulu’s cafe. Doordash delivered this package at the doorstep. Can Lulu’s cafe recapture the attention of the Greens? Yes, they can – with QR Codes.
Here’s how it works – Lulu’s cafe adds a QR Code on the food package that calls out – “Scan to view our safety standards”. Once the Greens scan the QR Code, they are pushed on to a retargeting list. Next, you can use this retargeting list to reach out to the Greens on online channels such as Facebook, Google, or Instagram.
How various states in the US have leveraged QR Code menus for restaurants in the wake of COVID-19
As the United States wrestles with the COVID-19 pandemic, some states have completely reopened their bars and restaurants and some have nodded yes for partial re-opening to curb the spread of the virus.
Although some states like New York and California had entered Phase 3 of re-opening, their governors have reinstated stringent rules back in place to help restore safety and hygiene in the state.
Let’s look at some of the popular states in the US and how they are coping with the pandemic –
QR Code menus in Florida: State regulations + Examples
According to The Daily Mail, Governor Ron DeSantis declared that the restaurants will remain open amid the pandemic with certain restrictions to cater at 100% capacity.
However, the CDC guidelines strictly encourage restaurant owners and patrons to go as contactless as possible to curb the spread of the virus.
According to the CDC guidelines, “Avoid using or sharing items that are reusable, such as menus, condiments, and any other food containers. Instead, use disposable or digital menus (menus viewed on cellphones), single-serving condiments, and no-touch trash cans and doors.”
Despite the fact that the government has given the green signal to open restaurants and bars at full capacity, it is advisable to make use of QR Code menus to limit the spread of the virus.
Ruth’s Hospitality Group has reopened its steakhouse dining rooms in Florida. The reopenings are in full swing in compliance with the latest COVID-19 rules. Workers are mandated to wear masks and made use of QR Code menus to limit the spread of the virus.
In addition, restaurants such as Red Fish Taco, Tace del Ray, Cafe Gala, and Napolitano use Beaconstac’s QR Code solution at their restaurants to leverage digital menus.
QR Code menus in New York: State regulations + examples
The state of New York re-opened its dining rooms in the month of September. However, the sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases has forced New York State to shut down indoor dining once again.
Many restaurateurs attempted to adapt once the restrictions were lifted – from takeout to delivery, then shifting outdoors to cautiously welcoming patrons indoors.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a new restrictions model that restricted indoor dining following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said eating indoors was a high-risk scenario.
Restaurants offering outdoor dining and take-out are leveraging QR Code menus to further curb the spread of the virus to patrons and their staff.
Nowon, hip-hop inspired Korean restaurant offers sidewalk seating dining. Guests have to scan a QR Code to view the menu. In addition, other restaurants such as Rahi, a modern Indian restaurant, Eataly, and Kochi, the Hell’s Kitchen Korean restaurant also uses QR Code menus.
QR Code powered menu in California: State regulations + Examples
La Papille Gustative, the new zero-waste restaurant in Los Angeles uses a QR Code menu for users to order food whilst dining outside.
“We are not a full-service restaurant; we don’t have a server coming to you taking your orders, but this is your server. This is your waiter,” said owner, Marina Aljanedi.
The state of California has a myriad of restrictions across different counties depending on the level of threat of the virus. The seating capacity varied from 25% to 50% depending on the zone the restaurant is located in.
As of December 21, 2020, Governor Gavin Newson has put most Californians under stay-at-home orders to deal with the strain on the hospital system, including a ban on in-person dining and outdoor dining in restaurants.
Restaurants and wineries may, however, offer food and beverage via take-out, drive-through, or delivery only.
The government of California clearly states that all the restaurants and bars, regardless of their functionality, must comply with COVID-19 restrictions and provide digital menus, or QR Code menus so patrons can view them with their smartphones easily.
In addition, restaurants and bars must include COVID-19 rules in the form of pictograms or clear instructions with the QR Code menu.
Restaurants such as Restaurante Morazan, Main Chick, The Grille, and Rubys make use of Beaconstac’s QR Codes to share their menu for take-away, drive-through, and delivery for their patrons.
Food for thought
Different parts of the world are at different stages of the pandemic. Some have recovered faster than others, while the rest of the world is still fighting the crisis. Unfortunately, the scale of the outbreak is directly proportional to the impact on the business. Under these circumstances, restaurants that are the hardest hit have to plan ahead. While some measures like masks and screens will be temporary, others such as contactless menu and contactless engagement are structural changes. Technology, and contactless technology, in particular, is the way ahead.
QR Codes and NFC are among the most popular technologies implemented in China and Singapore. Given their versatility and ease of use, they are a favorite among other parts of the world as well. Try QR Codes for your restaurant – now!
Monika Adarsh is the Director of Inbound Marketing at Beaconstac where her primary job is to help users find answers to anything related to QR Codes. She works closely with customers to understand QR Code usage trends and build a framework for successful QR Code campaigns. She enjoys documenting her learnings about the QR Code market as posts and playbooks. She also anchors a podcast to uncover ways of using QR Codes in DTC/CPG brands. In her free time, she loves gardening and decorating spaces.