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The Pandemic Is Pushing QR Code Menus Into the Mainstream

From the Editor: Everything you missed in food news last week

A spread of food including salad, pepperoni balls, and fried pork with an egg displayed in white porcelain dishes on top of a brown wooden table
Cozy Royale’s QR code is on a flag held by a turtle
Clay Williams/Eater

This post originally appeared on October 24, 2020 in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.


Earlier this month, I went to dinner with my family at the (wonderful) new Williamsburg restaurant Cozy Royale. The kids got paper menus and crayons. The adults scanned the QR code on the table to find the full menu and drinks list. At another Brooklyn restaurant Lalou a few weeks ago, I scanned the QR code to find the menu and also the health screening form, where they collected my email in case they needed it later for contact tracing. At Thai Diner one recent Saturday night, I used the QR code to access the menu, order my items, and pay, significantly cutting down the contact with a server, who just brought water and food when it was ready.

There are a lot of obvious upsides to relying on QR codes during this pandemic. Fewer items to touch and wash, less contact with servers, and more and easier ways to obtain important health and contact info from diners. But there are also very real advantages to keeping QR code menus well past the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chef Jonah Miller wrote a great piece about this for the Counter the other week and raised some points I hadn’t considered before. Most obvious is the great environmental waste of printing out so many menus. But he also argued the paper menu can inhibit creativity. As a chef he often thinks twice before changing a menu item because he doesn’t want to reprint the menu. Paper menus also prove problematic when items run out. Servers have to begin an interaction with a guest by telling them what the restaurant doesn’t serve. With digital menus, they can make the change on the spot.

I think this is going to be one of those pandemic-era pushes that may change how we interact with menus for the long haul. It won’t be for everyone (especially at the high end) but I imagine some restaurants will never go back to paper.

To hear more about QR codes, listen to my co-host Daniel and I talk to restaurateur Wilson Tang about them (and also the shifting dynamic between restaurant owners and customers) this week on our Eater’s Digest podcast.


News

— Closures: Callie Speer’s cool downtown diner Holy Roller in Austin; and fine dining gem Tarsan i Jane and trailblazing organic restaurant Tilth in Seattle.

— Openings: Enrique Olvera’s much-anticipated LA debut Damian in Los Angeles; Compass Rose’s new weekend bakery Bodega and a new beer hall called Prost DC in D.C.; Frenchette Bakery and Milu, a new Chinese counter service spot from an EMP alum, in New York; a long awaited location of Din Tai Fung in Vegas; Jasper’s, a new casual spot from veteran Nashville chef Deb Paquette; and Aybendito, a to-go operation specializing in Puerto Rican staples, in Portland.

Chicago is eliminating indoor service at bars and enacting a 10 p.m. curfew on indoor dining. One of California’s largest counties, which includes Palm Springs, closed indoor dining. And San Francisco started to loosen restrictions, allowing restaurants to open indoor dining at 50 percent capacity and allowing bars that don’t serve food to open to outdoor customers.

— It feels like a lifetime ago but right before the pandemic reached the United States, a devastating tornado flattened much of East Nashville, killing 25 people. It destroyed the bar Attaboy and killed one of its bartenders. The owners rebuilt and reopened this week with an “positive vibes only” mantra.

— There’s a bit of a restaurant boom in Bethesda, a tony suburb of Washington D.C.

— San Francisco’s Japantown mostly consists of businesses inside three malls, overseen by two landlords. Neither are giving rent breaks, and locals worry this could spell the end of the cultural center.

— New York’s beloved Parisian bistro Buvette will expand to London.

— Chef Alon Shaya will open a restaurant in the Four Seasons in New Orleans.

Chicago’s dining domes and pods
Barry Brecheisen

Features and Miscellany

— How Manhattan’s largest dim sum parlor Jing Fong is adapting to indoor dining.

— Take a photo tour though Chicago’s new collection of pod houses and dining domes (the fleet of yurts from AmEx is on its way).

Everything you need to know about LA’s underground meat sensation Avi Cue and his upcoming shwarma pop-ups.

— Detroit charities are meeting the new and changing demand from food insecure residents with free farmers markets, CSA boxes, and restaurant and app partnerships.

— Reviews: Ryan Sutton on the new Queens location of an longtime favorite of his Bolivian Llama Party and Robert Sietsema on the Upper East Side’s newest Filipino breakfast at Bilao.

— Two cool-looking cookbooks to put on your radar: Baking at the 20th Century Cafe, an exercise in high stakes baking for cake-making diehards and Vivian Howard’s newest, This Will Make It Taste Good, which revolves around the 10 condiments that she leans on to elevate simple recipes.

— PSA: We’re relaunching our program highlighting the next leaders in the industry. Click over to read about our New Guard program and how to nominate someone (or yourself!).


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