In a post-pandemic era marked by the rise of digital conveniences, a surprising shift is taking place in the dining industry. Restaurants across the country are ditching QR code menus and reverting to traditional handheld menus, responding to widespread customer dissatisfaction and a longing for the classic dining experience.

During the pandemic, QR code menus became a popular alternative, touted for their touchless convenience and perceived safety. However, as life returns to normal, it appears that diners are craving the tangible experience of flipping through a physical menu. Reports indicate that patrons are increasingly frustrated with the impracticality of using their phones to order. Complaints range from difficulty reading small text on screens to privacy concerns.

One vocal critic, Oz du Soleil, expressed his frustration to the Wall Street Journal, recalling a time he immediately walked out of a restaurant upon discovering it only offered a QR code menu. “It’s like self-checkout or putting your own IKEA stuff together,” he lamented, highlighting the laborious nature of navigating digital menus.

The sentiment is echoed within the industry. Teddie King, director of operations at Zuma, a Japanese restaurant chain, labeled QR code menus as “tacky,” underscoring a growing perception that digital menus detract from the dining experience. “In the restaurant industry, the QR code menu is seen as a little bit tacky,” King asserted.

Nicolas Geeraerts, COO of John Fraser Restaurants in New York, noted that digital menus were starting to alienate customers. Contrary to assumptions that only older patrons would resist technology, Geeraerts revealed that even younger, tech-savvy customers are turning their backs on QR code menus.

Yet, there are still some who appreciate the frictionless convenience that QR codes provide. Phil Armstrong, a 38-year-old patron, enjoys the efficiency of ordering from his phone without needing constant interaction with waitstaff. “I don’t necessarily need someone to ask how I’m doing nine times,” he remarked.

However, the prevailing preference for physical menus is clear. A 2022 survey found that 88 percent of consumers favored paper menus over QR code options in traditional restaurants. Additionally, half of the survey participants indicated that QR codes would deter them from dining at a restaurant.

Fox 5 New York highlighted this shift back to pre-COVID dining norms, emphasizing the resurgence of paper menus. Lizzie Barnes of Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House noted that while QR codes were initially popular for their no-contact convenience, customers now prefer the traditional approach. “People felt comfortable with it at the time. No touching. No contact,” she explained.

The data supports this trend. Mark Plumlee, senior content manager for Must Have Menus, reported a nearly 27 percent decline in digital menu scans compared to two years ago. This indicates a heightened demand for physical menus. “People really like having a menu that they can hold. They can feel it, they can open it up and explore, or hand it over to someone else to look at,” Plumlee observed. “It’s part of the experience. It’s part of the dining. It’s part of the romance of the restaurant.”

Barnes concurred, highlighting the integral role that physical menus play in the overall dining experience. As restaurants navigate the evolving landscape of post-pandemic dining, it’s clear that the classic, tangible menu is making a strong comeback, much to the delight of diners who cherish tradition and a touch of elegance in their dining experience.