Touchless Menus: Seven Tips for the Win


As restaurants continue to reopen, the whole world is watching. Before the pandemic, little attention was paid to restaurant menus that were touched over and over again. Now, disposable paper menus or “touchless” technology alternatives are often specified by regulators governing reopenings.

Packaged technology offerings and Do-it-Yourself (DIY) options are bringing touchless to this new world of menus, making them accessible to restaurants of all sizes. Touchless menus can reduce the hassle and cost of printing paper menus (not to mention keeping them out of landfills).

Here are seven ways that restaurants can maximize the value of going touchless, ensuring safe, engaging guest experiences while improving operations.

Re-enlist QR Codes

QR codes may sound “so yesterday,” but they can smooth the post-pandemic guest experience. QR codes basically are just a way to encode data and in this case it is usually a link. It’s what you do with that link that matters. Take your guest to a pdf file, launch a website or download an app? (So yesterday.)  How about launching a mobile responsive interactive menu on your personal device without the requirement to download an app? (Not only possible but practical.)

With more than 1 million restaurants in the US alone, “app fatigue” was a problem before the pandemic. Guests will likely not be happy if they feel you’re forcing them to put your app on their phone. Very large restaurant brands will have good market penetration with their apps, but most restaurants will not.  (Plus: If only 10-20% of your guests have your app, how will you serve the other 80-90%?)

Keep Your Options Open

Sanitized tablets, smartphones or throw-away menus?  Most restaurants will need to have all three. Many guests will use their own devices, but the remainder will need to be accommodated with paper. Some menu formats (such as beverage books and wine lists) benefit from the larger form factor of a tablet. Touchless offerings may be able to handle both tablets and smartphones.

Streamline FOH Operations

Cloud-based touchless menus offer a “digital transformation” opportunity for restaurants of all sizes, budgets and cuisines. You can use touchless to improve overall operations while delighting guests. For example: most restaurants offer different menus at different times of the day/week.  Happy Hours, Sunday Brunches, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Limited Time Offers (LTOs), and so on.  Some systems can change menus and/or menu sections on different days and times. Or let you 86 menu items without re-coding a website or leaving the floor.

Integrate with Your Website

Now that you have an interactive, real-time menu for use at table, wouldn’t it be great to have it on your website?  This eliminates the problem of out-of-date pdfs, which frustrate guests when they come expecting something that you no longer serve.  Bonus: when you 86 something, it disappears from the website in real-time.

Exploit Analytics for Menu Engineering

Online touchless menu offerings may be able to track activity, geography, smartphone operating system types, and user-sharing stats. This data can be used to optimize behaviors and revenue.  The ability to A/B test menus lets you see which one produces the desired revenue and experience outcomes.

Turbocharge Marketing

With touchless menus that run on smartphones, guests now leave your restaurant with your menu on their phone. Ideally, your system will let them easily share your menu with friends.  Also, if they dined in, you could consider pushing a takeout menu to their phone for when they get home. 

Brand, Brand, Brand

If your touchless menu runs on a smartphone, can it still look like a menu?  Yes. But pay extra attention to the options that you have for menu design and presentation. Beware systems that force-feed you options like “pick the blue, yellow or red design.” Or systems that look too tech-y, like an app or website.

Jack Serfass, CEO and co-founder of Uptown Network.

Even with the sweeping changes in “eating out,” guests still want to engage with your brand as part of their dining experience. More now than ever, I’d argue. Touchless menus can help.

About the Author:

A former restaurateur, Jack Serfass is CEO and co-founder of Uptown Network, an innovator  in using iOS and Android mobile devices to help hospitality brands — such as Darden, Hilton/Waldorf Astoria, Hard Rock Casinos and Shula’s — operate more efficiently and deliver engaging guest experiences that help build brand loyalty and increase revenues. 

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