Cracking the QR Code

Barcodes have become a familiar part of everyday life and, like all technologies, they are evolving – from the traditional horizontal format, storing limited amounts of data, to others that store larger amounts, both horizontally and vertically. Square “QR” (quick response) codes are the ones getting all the attention, and for good reason. Their increased capacity means that many more kinds of data can be embedded, and with advanced smartphones (iPhone users need to download a code-scanning app, most of which are free; BlackBerry and Android phones come with them) anyone with an Internet connection can scan and read them from any angle. Which means that restaurants can almost instantly direct consumers to takeout menus, promotional coupons, Google place listings, videos of recipe preparations, review sites, Facebook fan pages, and more – in an easy and dynamic way. Restaurants can quickly generate free downloadable QR codes using a host of websites, including: myQRco;;;;;; ZXing Project.

According to a recent ComScore study, consumers who have scanned QR codes have most likely done so in newspaper and magazine ads and on product packaging, but QR codes can be placed on any medium onto which they can be printed or affixed, such as:

• Direct mail pieces
• Restaurant guides
• Business cards
• Billboards and signs
• Windows or doors; the hostess stand
• Table tents, menus and check presenters
• Nametags and employee uniforms
• Promotional items (shirts, mugs, mouse pads, etc.)
• Takeout packaging
• Pagers
• Surveys and media releases (online or printed)

Experts agree that it’s key for QR codes to prompt a call to action and/or provide something valuable for customers; when linking to webpages be sure those webpages contain unique content and are not mirror images of printed materials, for example. Above all, webpages must be mobile-friendly so they load quickly and can be easily read. To be quickly scanned, QR codes should be large enough and not too dense; using URL shortening services such as and will help streamline the content to be embedded and often provide analytics that will help track the success of QR campaigns. Test the QR codes on multiple devices to ensure that they work, and if QR codes are in the restaurant, make sure the WiFi connection is sufficient. And, it’s vital to educate employees about the codes, what they are intended to do, and how they can help customers who may be new to them.

Some ways QR codes can help restaurants connect with customers:

• Launch mobile-friendly webpages, including a Facebook fan page, Google Place page, blog, review site; connect to recipes and nutritional information

• Connect online for real-time reservations or to complete an online survey (Some PF Changs distribute cards with a QR code link to a quick mobile survey about new menu items.)

• Launch location map/directions

• Download an MP3 file, photos, or video (In some Applebees, QR codes on table tents load entertaining videos promoting a 14-minute service promise.)

• Dial a telephone number

• Load an email, text, or SMS message

• Download an app

• Link to mobile ordering or use mobile ordering to generate a QR code (Placing an order at The Melt in San Francisco with a mobile phone creates a QR code that customers swipe when they arrive, which initiates cooking.)

• Trigger location-based game check-ins ( has a QR code check-in feature; restaurants can display unique QR code decals to be scanned to check in to their venues.)

• Download a calendar item or contact information

• Link to coupons and promotions