A QR code sticker is attached to one of Citizen Brewing’s outdoor patio tables. PHOTO: SAM PHELPS

As restaurants continue to evolve in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are turning to technology to replace traditional paper menus with QR codes.

Following the move into Stage 1 and 2 of Alberta’s relaunch strategy that allowed Calgary restaurants, pubs, bars and cafés to reopen, restaurants like Madison’s 1212, The Beltliner and Citizen Brewing were looking at ways to decrease their touch points in their businesses. 

QR codes allow customers to scan using their camera app, which opens up an internet browser with a menu.

John Kanaroski, general manager of The Beltliner, says the idea came after opening the establishment under new management.

“We looked at all the different ways people were doing menus, and we had all the old menus that were not COVID-friendly, with everyone touching them.”

Kanaroksi says that seeing the code idea in action with other Calgary establishments showed its potential to eliminate touch points.

Upon re-opening, servers at The Beltliner would drop business cards with QR codes on them at tables, which has now evolved into permanent QR codes on the corner of tables.

For Kanaroski, the implementation has been positive. Most customers are comfortable with the codes, with iPads available for those who don’t have their phones or know the technology. Kanaroski thinks that this is the future for restaurants.

Mackenzie Walas, general manager of Citizen Brewing, had the same thoughts about QR codes. After a trip to the Ship and Anchor, Walas was on board with the new technology, and said that implementation was easier than he thought it would be.

“I literally googled free QR code, and I was like, ‘Oh, this will be easy.’ I made the QR code myself, printed the stickers off and was able to put them on every table.”

“I’ve been in restaurants for a long time, and I’m surprised that this idea wasn’t as big before — This is definitely the new way of using menus.”

John Kanaroski

Keith Geddes, general manager of Madison’s 1212, says their establishment has taken it a step further, with the implementation of an intake paper, which gives the customers a step-by-step guide to ordering through an online app on mobile phones. 

While most of the feedback on this system has been positive, Geddes says there has been the occasional group resistant to the change.

“For reception, I’d say about 80 per cent [of customers] are totally comfortable,” Geddes says. “The rest are more like, ‘Is it okay if I just order from you?’ So we do have a stack of [paper] menus for those people.”

Geddes has only had a couple of customers totally against the QR code.

“We have had a few that have sat down, they’ve looked at the intake sheets, and left.”

“I’ve been in restaurants for a long time, and I’m surprised that this idea wasn’t as big before. Obviously, with paper and printing costs being high, a simple QR code can last forever, so this is definitely the new way of using menus,” says Kanaroski about the Beltliner’s permanent QR codes.

Walas says Citizen has seen a positive change through the QR technology as well. The QR codes help remedy potential pinch points within the restaurant, where customers used to look to the chalk boards and impede other tables.

The other positive is an increase in visual aides for customers to pick food and drink options, as pictures of the dishes can be easily added to the website, something that was a hurdle with paper menus.

“Unless people have been [to Madison’s 1212] multiple times and know exactly what we have and offer, it’s a little sticky for them, because they’re basically just asking for a, ‘What do you have?’ Type of thing,” Geddes says.

Walas echoed the same thoughts. “The next step for us is actually adding the pictures, having that visual side to help customers see our menu items.”

Madison’s 1212’s intake sheet, which explains how to use QR codes, and how to order through their online service. PHOTO: SAM PHELPS

Here’s how to use a QR code in a restaurant: 

1. Ensure that mobile data is turned on for the camera and web browser apps.

2. Hold the camera and focus your camera on the QR code.

3. A browser notification should prompt you to open the menu through your web browser.