My beef with QR code menus and other digital stomach turners

Permit me if you will a moment to share my beef about a dining trend: the QR code menu.

It’s the COVID-19 hangover that annoys me most. I’ve seen it in restaurants all over Sydney – most of them high-end – which like everyone in the hospitality game may be struggling to return to post-pandemic profitability; but this is not the way to do it.

QR code menus have become popular in restaurants.Credit:Bloomberg

I understand why the QR code gained traction during these past few years because of the need to minimise points of contact between patrons and restaurant professionals. Yes, I get that a paperless restaurant provides a more sanitary alternative to physical menus, and means waiters don’t need to touch potentially germ-laden credit cards. But for me, ordering from a digital waiter is dehumanising and disconnecting.

Not only do I not like ordering this way, but I am appalled that after you use the app to order, it asks for a tip. Really?! They should be giving ME a discount for moonlighting as my own waiter.

Surely I’m not the only one to feel that the joy of restaurant dining comes from the personal touches: the interaction with the waitperson who can recite the menu like a piece of poetry, or the sommelier who can explain the slope of a valley where a wine comes from and why it goes with a particular dish.

I still get misty-eyed at the memory of some of the best meals of my life in France and California, and it has not just been the food, wine and setting, but the wait staff that have made them special. I’m happy to tip for the part people play in creating the ambience. But to tip an app? That’s a bit rich.

Ah, the good old days. Credit:

Not only that, I can’t help but hear myself as a parent insisting the phone, like any screen, should not be a dining table utensil. I find it loathsome in my home, so why should I feel differently at a dining establishment? Not to mention elderly people who don’t have a mobile phone or know how to use it, or others who simply refuse to use it for such purposes.

As we know too well, technology often lets you down. Often the app doesn’t work, or you are asked for a PIN that has to be entered and re-entered on your phone and has you going around in digital circles. Surely getting up and walking to the bar and ordering from a real bar tender is quicker in this case.

I’m equally miffed by self-checkouts at supermarkets, especially during COVID-19 lockdowns when a trip to the grocery store was as close as it got to a fun outing. I’ll still queue up in a long line at my local Woollies to have a real-life exchange (and say hi to Di and Deidre) rather than the impersonal checking of every item yourself, which invariably doesn’t work and requires a staff member to come help anyway.

Any mental health expert will tell you it is these small but meaningful daily exchanges with people in real life in your own community that help as much as authentic honest intimate relationships with family and friends, fulfilling work and an optimistic outlook.

As for other digital discourtesies, don’t get me started with Uber. Have you noticed it defaults to not just rating your trip and driver, but adding a tip? This is deceitful carpetbagging and enough to make me want to go back to using taxis and tipping if I have a good experience.

I’m also finding the latest update to Google maps most frustrating. Perhaps it is a user fail but I’ve found myself lost so often lately because of incorrect directions. It’s enough to make me retreat to the reliable old Gregorys’ I still keep sentimentally in the back seat of the car.

And have you tried to book an airline ticket other than online lately? It’s enough to make me waltz to the local shopping centre and walk into a Flight Centre just to talk to a real-life travel agent (those who still have jobs) and pay them handsomely to sit on the telephone to the airline for me.

As for online banking – now we have banking apps I wonder what must have happened to the legions of bank managers. They already take their own form of compulsory tipping in the ridiculous fees they charge to keep our money.

I lost interest in Wordle a few months back because, despite joining an online community to humble-brag results with, it wasn’t real. It was a digital creation. I’d rather return to an old-school crossword or paper quiz where you can ask your coffee companion, or waiter or barista at your local cafe for input in real life.

Try asking that of a QR code.

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