Finding New in the Old: The Rise of QR Codes during the coronavirus pandemic

When it comes to restaurant cravings these days, limited contact is what’s on the menu. In fact, “avoiding contamination” has replaced “food quality” as the most significant consideration when deciding where to dine. According to our survey of 1,200 U.S. customers, 24% of respondents are most concerned with contamination, followed by safety and sanitation practices and restaurant cleanliness, tied at 19% each.

Back to the future

A resurgence of a somewhat forgotten technology has saved the day. The humble QR code, used for ordering and paying, is a way to ease diners’ and staff’s concerns about contamination, safety and social distancing. Because diners use their own smartphones, QR codes allow customers and staff to stay a safe distance apart, without a big investment by the operator. As an example, one of our partners, Rebecca Wilkins, recently visited an independent Mexican restaurant in the Austin, Texas, area. With a quick scan of a QR code, using mom’s phone, her family of four easily accessed the menu, without the cost and waste of a disposable menu or relying on busy staff to sanitize laminated menus.

“We haven’t dined out often during safe-at-home orders, but this made our experience feel safe without the guilt of throwing away a lot of paper,” Wilkins said. “And we got to enjoy one of our family’s favorite experiences.”

Wilkins isn’t alone in her desire to return to restaurants. In a survey, nearly 75% of survey respondents agreed with the statement, “I want to eat out at restaurants.”

Yet also reported a gap between the desire to eat out and actually feeling safe doing it. In fact, when RMS interviewed families from around the world, not surprisingly, risk perception and anxiety were major factors in choosing to dining out. QR codes start to close this gap and ease concerns when implemented along with visible hygiene practices, safe distances between tables and restricted numbers of customers served.

And in some parts of the world, QR codes are becoming standard. As RMS Paris Managing Director Nicolas Bordeaux observes, “QR codes seem to be the norm for casual and fine dining throughout Paris.”

No contact? No problem.

The rise of contactless channels indicates that this behavior is here to stay. In a deep dive of our survey results, we found that every generation, from Gen Z to boomers, has increased its use of contactless channels since April 2020. Gen Zers made the biggest leap — their use of takeout jumped from 19% in April to 41% in March. Boomers followed in second place, increasing takeout behavior from 14% in April to 34% in May. Millennials and Gen Xers are also taking out and driving thru more often; nearly 40% of millennials and about one-third of Gen Xers say they are using these channels more than in April.

Contactless payments have seen a similar rise. In a Paytronix July 2020 webinar, host Kiera Blessing shared findings by RTI Research that 30% of consumers have started using contactless payments since the pandemic began, and 70% of those users expect to continue using them post-COVID-19.

Rewards and more

QR codes also have the added benefit of incorporating loyalty. In the same Paytronix webinar, Blessing notes, “Guests that are enrolled in loyalty programs continued visiting restaurants at a much higher rate than non-loyalty members during COVID-19.”

In Singapore, RMS Managing Director Winny Daud reports that QR codes are being used to limit the virus’ spread. She notes: “Prior to entering any businesses (offices, malls, shops, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.), we have to scan a QR code to check in and indicate we had our temperature read. Upon exiting, we scan the QR code to check out. Then, if positive cases are reported in the area, you will be notified immediately.”

The pre-COVID dining experience is not returning anytime soon. But with the necessary precautions to keep diners and staff safe, guests will come back. QR codes are one way for customers to have the outing they crave, in the safe way they need and want.

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