Is it goodbye to QR code menus in restaurants, a relic of Covid times?

Irish diners may prefer a printed menu, but do virtual ones offer some positives?

“No phones at the dinner table,” is a relatively recent addition to the lexicon of modern manners. But without the aid of a smartphone, diners could nearly go hungry at some restaurants recently. QR codes, a bar code or pattern capable of being scanned by a mobile device, replaced printed menus in many hospitality venues during the pandemic. In Ireland, most hospitality venues ditched the little plastic cards with the codes as soon as it was acceptable to do so. Like face masks and hand sanitiser, they are a relic of those difficult days and their usage is declining.

It’s not just in Ireland that the point and scan menu is falling out of favour. A report in the New York Times this week revealed that scans of QR code menus in restaurants have declined by 27 per cent, year on year, and 75 per cent of restaurant QR code menus were scanned fewer than 90 times over the past 12 months.

Despite the declining take-up, ditching physical menus in favour of virtual ones could offer some positives. Some customers with less-than-perfect eyesight find them useful. Customers engaging with DIY menu ordering, and in some cases bill payment, could lessen the workload in an industry dealing with a labour crisis. There are sustainability attractions too – no more mountains of paper or laminated plastic to be accounted for. But there is a reason for the demise of the QR code menu here: many Irish diners seem to strongly dislike using them.

Many business owners dislike them too. Nikki Mitton is the owner of Er Buchetto Caffe Italiano in Ranelagh, Dublin 6: “In my opinion, it’s just not part of a restaurant experience being told to go on your phone to see a menu. I couldn’t imagine telling our older clientele they had to view a menu this way.”


Cormac Cronin is co-owner, with his wife Louise Buggy, of Bodega restaurant in Waterford. “I can’t stand them. Nothing worse than having everyone with their phones out, trying to navigate. Someone inevitably has a problem. It’s not relaxing. I like the feel of a proper menu. When I go out for a nice meal, I nearly want to leave the phone at home, not be looking through apps,” he says.

Chef Wade Murphy runs 1826 Adare with his wife, Elaine. At the Co Limerick restaurant, which celebrated 10 years in business earlier this month, guests are presented with large, leather-bound menus. The establishment never used the QR code system, not even during the pandemic. “We just printed out the menus on single sheets of paper, we didn’t use the menu covers, and we recycled them afterwards.”

Murphy believes reading through a physical menu is part of the restaurant ritual. “I am a big fan of the old school of sit down, here’s your menu, open it up, have a read through it. It’s part of your dining experience and it’s part of the sequence of service in a restaurant.”

Responses to my poll on QR code menus, posted on Twitter this week, were overwhelmingly negative: “If I sit down in a restaurant I want a paper menu – if I have to pull out my phone to order, I’ll just go home and get a delivery.” “Once I see a QR code only menu I pass by to where there’s human interaction and a written menu.” “The last thing I want to look at in a restaurant is my phone.” “Hate them. The last thing I want to see at a table is a phone.”

Joanne Cronin, a management consultant and food writer, is open minded about QR code menus at the casual dining end of the market, but feels they are not appropriate in a more expensive restaurant. “I don’t mind them in casual type spots, after all it saves on paper and printing. But if spending money, I want the experience, the feel and weight of a menu. I have a collection of Michelin [restaurant] menus, they act as memories of a meal.”

Travel abroad this summer, and you may find QR code menus more prevalent than they are here. Reliance on having a smartphone to access a menu could become an issue, where data access or wifi may not be available, as Mary McNeilly found. “As a customer, they’re a pain. Especially if you’re a foreign visitor with little to no internet access, for example. I was in Spain a few weeks ago and the resort relied on them a lot. I was lucky to have a data plan that meant I could eat into my allowance. Others were not so lucky.”