Quick Response (QR) codes have been around since 1994, when a Japanese company called Denso Wave created the two-dimensional matrix barcode system to track products during manufacturing. By 2011, companies like Skanz were betting they would be the next big thing in social media, creating silicon wrist bands with unique QR codes that would direct anyone who scanned them to a website users could personalize. The next year, Taco Bell was using them in print ad campaigns to drive online engagement, taking consumers who scanned the codes to a web page that described their new menu and connected them to the QSR’s social media accounts.
Smaller brands like The Melt, a grilled cheese sandwich chain, began using them for mobile ordering. Customers would place an online or mobile order and get a QR code that they could bring into the restaurant to redeem their food, with their credit card only getting charged once the code was scanned. Although The Melt considered the 7% adoption rate of QR codes a success back in 2012, consumers still needed to download a separate app just to be able to scan them. This was the case with all brands until the release of iOS 11 in 2017, which finally gave iPhone cameras the ability to scan QR codes natively. By then, however, social media platforms like Snapchat had already built QR code scanners into their apps, helping to renew interest in the technology.
Today, QSR brands are using QR codes to drive engagement once again. In fact, Chick-fil-A increased downloads of its app by 14% in 2019 just by including a QR code in its digital signs. Here are 4 ways your restaurant brand can capitalize on the resurging popularity of QR codes:
1 – Promoting the versatility of off-premise ordering
With the growth of so many different delivery and digital ordering partners, QSRs are now competing with full service restaurants for off-premise orders. Having swag gear with QR codes that your QSR brand can give away is a great way to reinforce your commitment to reaching consumers regardless of the third-party delivery service they choose.
In the summer of 2019, McDonald’s Sweden gave away picnic blankets through social media with a QR code that people can scan to place an order using any third-party delivery platform they want. The QR code automatically geo-locates customers, reinforcing the idea that off-premise deliveries can be taken anywhere, including local parks.
2 – Expanding customers’ payment and checkout options
With 90% of transactions today involving debit or credit card processing, your QSR can allow customers to scan QR codes as an alternative to electronic funds transfers through a POS terminal. Chinese brands are already doing this for dine-in orders through WeChat and Alibaba by displaying QR codes on each table. Once customers scan the QR code, they are able to see a menu where they can then order and pay using the debit or credit card information already stored in their smartphones. This eliminates the need to print menus, saving your QSR the hassle of constantly redesigning menus when your offerings change. Limited time offerings are also easier to launch, since every customer can see the current availability of items on their smartphones rather than relying on a potentially outdated printout.
3 – Encouraging customers to leave reviews
According to a survey by BrightLocal, 91% of 18 to 34 year olds trust online reviews as much as word-of-mouth endorsements. The company noticed a recent uptrend in searches for reviews since starting their survey in 2010, showing the importance of sites like Yelp in making your brand more visible. Printing QR codes on packaging is not a novel idea, as Taco Bell has been doing this for an entire decade to drive customer engagement. For an up-and-coming QSR concept, however, having a QR code on a napkin or receipt that links directly to your Yelp page communicates to consumers that you trust them enough to solicit an honest review of your brand.
4 – Increasing donations for the good causes your brand already supports
A 2019 study by the Federal Reserve found that only 26% of consumers use cash, making it harder for the Salvation Army and other charities to meet their daily goals. QSR chains like Taco Bell still collaborate with these charities, however, hosting food drives with incentives like a free taco for every can of food donated. In order to increase donations, QR codes printed on food vouchers that link directly to a charity’s donation page can allow for cashless consumers to participate in your QSR’s charity campaigns.