How to Use QR Codes in Your Restaurant

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Restaurant QR codes offer much more than just digital menus. Here’s how Toast can help you implement a QR code strategy that goes far beyond a simple QR code menu.

What is a Restaurant QR Code?

QR Code menus are digital versions restaurant menu that consumers can access through their smartphone. They are designed to replace physical menus allowing consumer the restaurant menu by scanning a QR code. Adoption of restaurant QR code accelerates during the COVID-19 pandemic and still remain in use.

Short for “quick response,” scannable QR codes jumped onto the restaurant scene at the onset of the pandemic. QR codes were great for sanitization and servers social distancing.

They were primarily used to prompt contactless menus at restaurants in the form of a PNG or PDF menu loaded onto a web page.

Contactless QR code menus are still the primary use case, though many restaurants have graduated to an evolved QR code experience for their guests and staff. Restaurant operators have seen how beneficial more robust, feature-rich QR code strategy can be outside of conveying menu items and pricing.

Read on to learn more about QR code menus for restaurants. See how QR codes can help modernize restaurant service models and guest-centric ordering processes.

QR code menus reduce waste, offer real-time updates

QR codes for restaurants operate by launching preset landing pages when guests simply use their smart phone’s camera to scan a QR code sticker or table tent insert with the QR code.

This digital menu reduces the need for paper menus. Whether presented as a web app, web page, or templated PDF file, digitized menus save on paper costs, laminator costs, and reduce the time spent updating and printing new menus.

The real-time, dynamic nature of QR code restaurant menus can be highly valuable, as operators can go in and make adjustments without having to update QR codes. This can include 86ing items, adjusting prices, switching from lunch to dinner, and more.

Benefits of QR code menus

A scan menu QR code strategy can offer the following benefits to restaurant operations.

  • Reduction in printing costs: Paper and printing are expensive, especially if you’re updating your menu often. With digital QR code menus, you can significantly reduce the amount of printed menus you need, and reduce your annual menu printing costs.

  • Simple, real-time menu updates: With a digital menu, you can quickly make changes on the fly, without having to wait for it to get printed. This also means that you can easily test new menu items, or try new names and descriptions on existing items to see what resonates best with your guests.

  • Enhanced menu browsing experience: With digital menus, it can be easier to add item specific images and provide more detailed descriptions to bring your menu to life. It can also allow for faster navigation to specific items through features like menu search, so guests don’t have to flip through a lengthy menu to find what they’re looking for.

QR codes for restaurants are much more than online menus

Restaurants can level up their QR code strategy with the proper tools and systems, such as Toast Mobile Order & Pay™. Such a system goes beyond a simple menu pop-up and enables guests to scan an updated menu, see real-time pricing, and place an order. 

Here’s what the process looks like:

  1. A guest sits down at the table and scans a QR code to pull up the digital menu.

  2. Depending on the system, the QR code can be unique to the table or require the guest to enter their specific table number.

  3. The guest can browse the menu, add items to their cart, and send the order right to the kitchen printer or Kitchen Display System (KDS).

  4. Some restaurant QR code ordering systems, like Toast Mobile Order & Pay™, allow guests to start a tab with a pre-authorized credit card so they can order continuously throughout their meal and pay when they’re done. The credit card pre-authorization ensures the restaurant can still close out the check from the POS, in case a guest forgets to do it.

  5. Once the guest is ready to leave, they can simply pay for their meal and walk out.

Here are a few ways restaurant owners and operators continue to use QR codes in replace of or addition to physical menus:

  • Digital menus: QR codes can be used to easily access a digital form of the restaurant's menu. Restaurant QR code menus are not only easier to update than paper ones, but they can also significantly reduce the costs of producing printed menus.

  • Digital payments: Scan to pay technology can print a unique QR code on every unpaid receipt, which allows guests to pay the bill immediately when they get the check. No more waiting for the server to come back and pick up a credit card, swipe it at the POS, and bring it back to the guest.

  • Mobile Order & Pay: This is essentially a combination of digital menus and digital payments, where guests can get a complete order and pay experience right from their own phone. Restaurant QR code ordering allows them to order exactly what they want when they want it, and then simply close out their tab from their phone when they’re ready to leave.

  • Guest engagement: QR codes can provide access to a sign up page for digital loyalty programs or email marketing lists.

Toast Mobile Order & Pay™
Give guests the experience they're looking for with mobile order & pay - easy access to what they want, when they want it, from their own device.

Restaurant QR codes help usher in a New Steps of Service

Toast’s New Steps of Service is a modernized, guest-centric service model. Too long has the restaurant industry been stuck with outdated dining experiences. The New Steps of Service employs QR codes and other technology to enable guests with real-time ordering and paying.

Here's how an innovative new service model powered by restaurant QR code order and pay can help restaurants, guests, and staff:

Increase in average ticket size

According to Toast data, Customers using Toast Mobile Order & Pay™ typically see a 9% higher check size* compared to standard dine in. With item descriptions, filters, and simple menu modifiers,Toast Mobile Order & Pay™ encourages guests to upsell themselves.

Lower table turnover times

According to Toast data, checkout using Toast mobile payments can save servers 4 minutes per table on average when compared to traditional methods.* This time saved can be rededicated to ensuring optimal guest experiences across all a server's tables. Or the increased efficiency can be leveraged to enable fewer staff to manage the floor.

Reduce FOH labor costs and increase take-home pay

Tips more than doubled at New England Lobster Market & eatery after using Toast Order & Pay™,  according to Danny Rosa. They're now splitting tips between all the employees, so that there are dishwashers now making $35 an hour, which is incredibly valuable for restaurant staff retention during such a tight restaurant labor market.

Improve guest experiences

Using a combination of Toast Go® 2 handhelds and Toast Mobile Order & Pay™, Café Gratitude servers that used to cover seven to eight tables can now float between 12-15 tables at a time, focusing on answering questions, delivering orders, offering upsells, and connecting with guests.

Using a similar hybrid approach of Toast Order & Pay™ and Toast Go® 2 handhelds enabled servers at Zunzi’s to better engage with customers and drive more tips. It ends up letting the guest choose their ideal experience, saves labor costs, and increases server take-home pay, according to Chris Smith, owner of Zunzi’s and Zunzibar.

*Compared to standard dine in. Based on Toast internal data from 2021 among restaurants using Toast Mobile Order & Pay™. Individual results will vary. 

Create your own QR codes for your restaurant menu

You’ve got a few options for implementing a QR code menu strategy to your restaurant. Your first decision must be determining whether you want to implement a modernized QR code order and pay system. That will narrow your choices down to a few primary providers, including Toast.

Here’s what you need to know about modernized QR code offering, Toast Mobile Order & Pay™:

Toast Mobile Order & Pay™

Toast Mobile Order & Pay™ provides a complete QR code ordering and payment experience for guests directly from their mobile phone. Unlike other systems that are based in off-premise Online Ordering technology, Toast Mobile Order & Pay™ was designed from the ground up, to meet the complex needs of a dine-in experience. Key features include:

  • Table-specific QR codes: Each QR code is specific to a table, so that guests don’t need to manually enter a table number when ordering. This also makes it easy for staff to track where orders are coming from and where they need to be run to.

  • Orders fired directly to the kitchen/bar: Toast Mobile Order & Pay™ orders can be sent directly to the printer or Kitchen Display System to improve speed of service and reduce table turn times.

  • Pre-authorized tabs & group ordering functionality: This allows guests to start a tab with a pre-authorized card so that they can order continuously throughout the meal, and then pay and tip once at the end. Group ordering allows multiple guests to join the same tab, so they can have a collaborative QR code ordering experience and send all of their orders to the kitchen on one ticket.

  • POS integration: Toast Mobile Order & Pay™ works seamlessly with Toast POS, so a server can add items to a tab from the POS or Toast Go after the guest starts it, providing for flexible and continuous service.

Toast's Mobile Order and Pay™ enables guests to scan a QR code, browse the menu, order, and pay, all from their mobile device.

Make Your Own

If you’re asking yourself, “how do I create a QR code for my menu,” the answer is quite simple. There are tons of free QR code generators available with a simple Google search. These templates can enable a pop-up menu experience whenever guests scan them.

If you already have an online ordering system, such as Toast Online Ordering, you can try creating a QR code to the online ordering URL.

A do-it-yourself system like this can be used to promote takeout in your restaurant, but some restaurants have “hacked it” to be used for dine-in orders as well. While a purpose-built restaurant QR code ordering system is recommended, making your own system via your Online Ordering provider may work for you, depending on your service model.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether to make your own QR code ordering system vs. using your Online Ordering provider:

  1. How will guests designate the order as being for dine-in? Some restaurants make a menu item or modifier to denote the order is for dine-in, but this can cause confusion for guests by complicating the menu. Additionally, most online orders will show up as takeout in the kitchen, so the kitchen staff will have to look out for these orders and your reporting may be skewed.

  2. How will guests designate where they are sitting? Most online ordering platforms don’t have a way for guests to designate where they are sitting. So, similar to the order type designation, some restaurants have made menu items to select the table number or have the guest enter it in the special requests. Again, this requires extra staff attention to make sure the order gets to the right place.

  3. What will the ordering and payment experience be like? Most online ordering platforms don’t allow you to create a tab, so guests will most likely have to pay every time they want to submit an additional order.

You can also think of your QR codes outside of just a menu pop-up mechanism. If you want to build up your social media presence, you could have a separate QR code that takes folks to your Instagram page. The same goes for an email sign-up page if you’re working on building a list for restaurant email marketing.

Get Started with Restaurant QR Codes

QR codes in restaurants are here to stay. Rather than simply use them to offer a static menu page, think about the specific needs of your establishment and consider how a robust QR code — and larger New Steps of Service strategy — can help boost sales, server efficiency, and optimize your operation.

Related Resources

* Based on performance at select Toast customers. Individual results may vary depending on your unique circumstances.

Toast Mobile Order & Pay™
Give guests the experience they're looking for with mobile order & pay - easy access to what they want, when they want it, from their own device.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.