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Restaurants, I’m begging you, ditch the QR code menus

Kelly Dennett is a Sunday Star-Times news director.

OPINION: The boundaries of my confidence as a solo diner were tested recently when a work trip to Los Angeles saw me abandon the in-room dining scene in favor of a flashy Hollywood restaurant.

Shown to a nice table, New Yorker magazine tucked into my bag, I felt great. Until, that is, I waited an awkwardly long time before asking, well, good sir, would you mind ever so much if I looked at the menu?

And that’s when I learned that restaurants are asking diners to view, order and pay by QR code.

What was this, McDonald’s?

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After admitting I didn’t have wi-fi, and could I just look at an old-fashioned paper menu, the waiter obliged, although it took an inordinately long time for him to, I guess, go down to their cobwebbed basement and dust off the book-like relic.

OK, Dorothy, so you’re not in Kansas anymore. Los Angeles, city of the future, where you can literally see robots on the streets delivering fast food, had adopted some newfangled technology. It was a healthy practice to reduce germs.

But surely it wouldn’t last. This is what I told myself. They don’t actually want to be doing this.

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But then. But then.

December. Newmarket. Waiting for a friend at a rooftop eatery where we’d have a drink.

“Sit anywhere and just order using the QR code on the table,” the waiter said.

It was official. Automation had reached the one thing I considered sacred in our smartphone world – hospitality.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. A friend told a sad story of going to a burger joint.

“There was a guy at the counter and he said, ‘order at the machine’. So I went to order at the machine, and it was busted. He came down and fixed it… so I could order at the machine. I was the only person in the whole place, in the middle of a weekday. It felt dystopian.”

I fear that in their haste to save money, be more efficient and yes, halt the spread of germs, restaurateurs have forgotten that the hospitality experience is one of the few reasons people have to leave their houses any more. Dining out used to be special.

Between the ages of 15 and 25, in between scooping ice creams, frothing milk, pouring pints, shaking cocktails, running food, and cleaning tables, I’d ask customers, what brings you here? How is your day? Let me tell you about this incredible dish we have. Are you a chardonnay drinker because we just got this awesome case the other day made by a one-legged boutique winemaker in Mendoza.

'The dude at the counter said, 'order at the machine'.  It felt dystopian.'

Getty Images

‘The dude at the counter said, ‘order at the machine’. It felt dystopian.’

Our customers were literally the life of the place, they kept the business going. We took pride in giving people a friendly experience – somewhere they wanted to return.

Aside from the practical faff of having to whip out your phone every time you wanna order, totally removing any chance of me throwing caution to the wind to say, yeah, sure, why not, I’ll have another glass of wine (ka- ching), or be talked into ordering sides (ka-ching, ka-ching), ordering by QR code removes one of the final opportunities for incidental connection people have left.

Where would Coronation Street be if the drinkers at Rovers Return didn’t have to talk to Bet, Raquel or whoever’s on the bar these days?

Certainly nobody would have known anybody’s name in Cheers.

In a world where you can bank online, shop online, buy groceries online, even work entirely online sans office, the connection from simply wandering into a bar and ordering a drink must be preserved at all costs.

Restaurateurs, I’m begging you, leave the QR codes to McDonald’s.

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