Over the past two years, QR codes and digital menus have sprung onto the scene as restaurants reckon with the challenges with of COVID-19. Early on during the pandemic, when people were still unsure of whether or not the virus could be passed on physical surfaces, print menus all but disappeared from restaurants, replaced by digital menus that pop up on your phone when you scan a QR code.
But recently, printed menus have made a comeback. Now most restaurants go with a hybrid model, continuing to offer the contactless solution they pivoted to, while also bringing back their old traditional physical menu.
Why is that? Why don’t restaurants simply make full-time switch to the digital space? In this article, we’ll explore the 10 reasons why printed menus will never disappear.
1) People want to unplug from devices, especially at mealtime.
It can be hard to disconnect from our phones these days. Prior to the pandemic, restaurants existed as one of the few remaining bastions of cell-phone-free quality time. People were generally expected to put their phones down and enjoy the company when out for a meal.
Without printed menus, cell phones and other digital devices become a necessary part of the dining experience. Simple actions like scanning the cocktail or dessert menu midmeal can be misconstrued as rude phone surfing. Once you introduce phones as integral part of dining out, it will be much harder to ever recapture that blissful feeling of disconnecting and enjoying a meal.
2) They drive home the brand whether fun, elegant, mouth-watering, healthy, etc.
Your brand starts with your menu. It’s the foundation and launching point for your entire customer experience. Physical menus give you an opportunity to control that branding in ways that online menus simply don’t allow due to the nature of their medium.
Since the viewing window on online menu is so much smaller, you have far less room to incorporate visual branding elements. You also miss out on different senses like touch and feel that help connect customers to your brand and your restaurant.
3) They give a definitive start to the service experience; people love to pour over menus
The dining experience has a familiar rhythm to it. You sit down, make pleasantries, and then everyone opens up their menus. That’s how the meal starts. Without printed menus, that whole order of operations is thrown out of whack. With digital menus, people have to whip out their phones. The waitstaff can’t be sure someone is ready to order or simply checking their text messages. Speaking of…
4) They facilitate dialogue with the waitstaff
One of the perks of dining out is being able to pick the brains of the waitstaff for their opinions on certain dishes. Can you do this with a digital menu? Sure. But you miss out on the connection of them pointing things out on the actual menu. No waiter is about to grab your phone and show you a special menu quirk, but they can take your physical menu and highlight notable things you might have missed. Some restaurants will even have the waiter cross out items that are sold out or not in season.
5) They segment & promote your various meals and promotions
Menus can be confusing, especially if you offer several separate ones for lunch, dinner, desserts, cocktails, seasonal specials, etc. This can become especially confusing with online menus. Even the best-designed ones will require excessive scrolling or tabbing. Printed menus allow you to segment your menu up using actual physical space, either on the same page or separate ones. This will always be easier for a customer to explore.
6) They are more family friendly
Keeping kids off of devices is a constant struggle for parents, especially when dining out. Sometimes it can simply be easier to hand a kid your iPad rather than deal with his or her untowardly behavior. This becomes especially true when devices are a required part of the dining experience to begin with. Printed menus help facilitate a communal dining experience for the whole family. On top of that,
7) They create more visual highlights / selling points
Menu engineering is the study of how restaurants can maximize sales through menu design. Restaurants across the world follow its tenants, and the vast majority of customers do not realize how often their brain is manipulated by simple design tricks like dropping dollar signs, using color cues, highlighting high margin items, and more.
But here’s the thing. Those design tricks don’t work on an online menus because the human eye and brain does not scan and process them in the same way. I’m sure someday we will figure out how to adapt menu engineering to the digital realm, but for now, restaurants miss out on its benefits with menus viewed on mobile devices.
8) They’re easier to scan quickly with your eyes
Similar to the point above, print menus provide an easier reading experience then most online menus. At their worst, online menus are simply PDFs uploaded to a restaurant’s website, and those are a nightmare to navigate on your phone. At their best, online menus contain multiple tabs and large font for easy navigation and viewing.
But even the best online menus can’t be quickly scanned and processed. That’s a benefit reserved for printed menus.
9) They’re nostalgic; as are many restaurants
For the majority of us, restaurants deliver big on the nostalgia factor. Prior to the last few years, they existed as one of the few modern experiences largely unchanged by technology. Menus play a large role in building that experience. Menus and restaurants have been inseparable from the beginning. Without the former, the latter lacks a certain nostalgic charm. The experience simply does not feel the same.
10) They can mesh with tech
Since the start of the pandemic, restaurants have been a great case study for the intersection of digital and print marketing. While more customer interactions have moved to the digital space ie. customers’ cell phones, there’s still the need for the print marketing. QR codes have been the perfect illustration of this connection. Yes, QR codes work to facilitate your digital marketing, but they’re also printed on physical marketing materials, like menus, table tents, and flyers. They need the printed material to bridge the gap between physical and digital marketing.
About the Author
Mark Plumlee is the senior copywriter at MustHaveMenus, which offers free social media templates and sharing tools. He enjoys writing about trends in the food industry.