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How to Use QR Codes in your Restaurant

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Restaurant QR codes are here to stay. Here are some of the benefits and types of QR codes, and how to get started yourself.

Short for “quick response,” scannable QR codes are used for a variety of purposes, from manufacturing to payments to marketing. And the COVID-19 pandemic has served to further highlight their usefulness, thanks to their touchless properties. 

This has especially benefited restaurants by providing easy access to a contact tracing form. It also reduces human touchpoints during service, by allowing patrons to view a digital menu, use mobile ordering, and/or pay for a meal. In fact, according to a National Restaurant Association survey, almost 50% of both casual and fine dining restaurants have implemented a QR code menu since the pandemic.

QR codes have proven so beneficial, that many owners are electing to keep them around for the long haul. Here are a few ways we think restaurants will continue to use QR codes, long after the pandemic ends.

  • 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.

What is a QR Code?

If you’ve ever been to the supermarket, you’ve probably seen a store clerk scan a barcode on a packaged product to ring it up. QR codes are similar to barcodes, in that they contain a set of data. However, QR codes contain data both horizontally and vertically, whereas barcodes only contain data vertically. This allows QR codes to contain significantly more information — up to about 4,000 characters of text.

Since most modern smartphone cameras can read QR codes now, businesses can use them in a variety of ways to engage with their customers. QR codes can launch a website, download an app, create a social media connection, and more. 

How to Use a QR Code in a Restaurant

QR codes are especially beneficial when used for ordering and payment. Here’s how the process works:

  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.

  4. Some restaurant QR code ordering systems, like Toast Order & PayTM, 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!

How else is a restaurant QR code ordering and payment system helpful to restaurants, guests, and staff? Let’s break down some of the key benefits.

  1. An increase in average ticket size: According to Toast data, the average check size on Toast Order & Pay orders is almost 12% higher than that of “traditional” dine-in orders*. With a digital ordering system, guests can order as soon as they're ready, which makes them more likely to get an additional round of drinks. Additionally, because a digital system can “always be upselling,” guests are more likely to select additional paid modifiers or add extra items than they are with a server.

  2. An improvement on table turnover times: Restaurants like Zocalo have reported a 10 minute improvement in average turn time. This means more tables can be served during their busy hours, which means more revenue for the restaurant and more tips for staff.

  3. A reduction in FOH labor costs and an increase in wages: With restaurant QR code ordering, restaurants can run their floor with fewer servers because they’re exclusively focused on hospitality, not distracted by transactional steps like punching in orders and closing out checks. Restaurants like HOUSEpitality restaurant group were able to increase FOH and BOH wages by 20-30% during the pandemic, after implementing Toast Order & Pay.

  4. A better experience for guests: Restaurant QR code ordering systems can provide guests with easy access to what they want when they want it, directly from their own mobile device. No more trying to flag down a server to order that first round during the rush, or waiting for the server to run their credit card back and forth to the POS.

Benefits of QR Code Menus

While QR code ordering can provide the most potential benefits to restaurant operators, QR code menus can also have a positive business impact.

  1. A 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.

  2. Easier 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.

  3. An 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.

Restaurant QR Code Options

Toast Order & PayTM

Toast Order & PayTM 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, 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: 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: 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.

Setting up Order & Pay is fairly simple, and can be broken down into a few key steps:

  1. Design your signs and configure your menus: Toast Order & Pay has an easy to use sign building tool that can help you create custom signs for every table with their own unique QR codes. Then you’ll need to make sure you have a guest friendly menu configured and available to guests via Toast Order & Pay.

  2. Test out the process: Run a few test orders to make sure everything is working properly and make tweaks where needed. It’s also best practice to have your staff try out the experience first, so they can easily explain it to guests.

  3. Train your staff: Staff training is key to a successful rollout. Servers need to become hospitality captains of their section instead of transactional order takers, so they’ll need to rethink how they engage with guests and where they spend their time. Check out our staff training guide and video for some helpful tips!

  4. Roll it out to your guests: Many restaurants start using Order & Pay in one or two sections or on their slower nights to start, so they can work out the best service model for their restaurant. Then you can expand awareness and adoption of it over time! The New Steps of Service provides some excellent guidance from successful restaurateurs on how to pivot your service model for the better with restaurant QR code ordering.

Scan to Pay

If you want to start simple by taking payments using QR codes, consider an option like Scan to Pay. This allows your guests to pay for their meal quickly, without having to flag down a server to run their credit card. Along with Apple Pay integration, paying the bill has never been easier! Give your guests the flexibility to pay as soon as they get the check, so you can seat the next table faster.

Make Your Own

If you already have an online ordering system like Toast Online Ordering, you can try creating a QR code to the online ordering URL. Just type “QR code generator” into a search engine, and you’ll be presented with a range of free online tools that can convert any URL into a QR code for download. 

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. How frustrating!

Get Started with Restaurant QR Codes

QR codes in restaurants are likely here to stay. So think about the specific needs of your establishment, and embrace the option that works best for you, whether it’s view only menus, QR code payments, or a complete QR code ordering and payment system!

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