Here’s Why QR Codes Hold Enormous Potential for Hoteliers and Their Guests

A QR experience must be more convenient or contextual than current customer habits, or it must dangle a carrot that’s too good for the guest to refuse.
By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky - 9.27.2022

The quick ready (QR) or matrix barcode has proven itself resilient beyond a mere pandemic fad. First they were a novelty, or often a joke, before gaining widespread adoption during the pandemic due to their contactless utility. Then as we shifted out of the pandemic, their benefits for saving on printing costs and labor efficiency were also too good to ignore. Together, this technology determinism has solidified the QR code’s place in hotels for the next half a decade at least, and yet their full potential hasn’t been unlocked.

With the travel recovery craziness sunsetting back into a period of relative normalcy for demand and labor forecasting (that is to say, we now know that labor will be constantly in short supply), it’s time to look ahead to 2023 and how we can better use this technology that’s been embraced, albeit often reluctantly, by both hospitality brands and our customers.

While the two of us both relish a good fireside chat about all things web3, crypto, longevity tech and super-sustainability projects, these are rather far-off aspirations – and thus unobtainable in the near-term – for most properties largely because of labor shortages in the IT department. When considering both your tech stack and your ‘human stack’, available resources for the calendar year dictate that it’s better to augment what you already have, which in this case is the QR code and the bevy of vendors doing incredible things to help you use it to optimize service and conversions.

The Digital Restaurant Menu Experience

To gain adoption, a QR experience must be more convenient or contextual than current customer habits, or it must dangle a carrot that’s too good for the guest to refuse – for example, offering a promotion to offset a high-friction app download that also captures first-party data. This grand idea of the guest experience is often too ambiguous, so it’s better to drill down to specific operations to derive quantifiable improvements.

We thus start in the restaurant where QR-accessible menus have shown tremendous value for:

  1. Saving on printing costs
  2. Dealing with erratic supply chains that require sudden menu omissions or pricing increases
  3. Reducing labor involved with handing out physical menus
  4. Lowering average table turn time
  5. Offering guests a frictionless BYOD ordering experience
  6. Expediting the payment process
  7. Increasing tipping in a now-cashless society
  8. Getting more data on specific orders and special requests
  9. More precise geolocation of food order delivery
  10. Analytics of order fulfillment to improve service and guide staffing decisions

This all said, there are objections. Here you encounter the growing lamentations over on-prem QR overload, particularly if these are plastered as signage everywhere, as well as the concern of the loss of genuine interactions between customer and brand representative (be that a server or associate).

But perhaps one of the most often customer-side complaints against QR menus is that patrons can’t see the full menu in one snapshot. This can hurt the branding for high-end restaurants where a thick cardstock or leatherbound menu backing adds to the experience, but more significantly the nuisance of pinching in or scrolling through the menu off a phone can result in items getting missed, amounting to lost revenues and more time spent by servers compensating for this issue.

The solution here is to work towards a better mobile menu experience, with the following as possibilities for you to figure out what can work with your team’s current bandwidth:

  • Knowing that linking to a static PDF is no longer acceptable customer service, the next option is to connect a QR to an HTML-based menu, nullifying the pinching issue (and at a low cost as most websites are already mobile-responsive) but not quite for the scrolling drop-off
  • To prevent said scrolling drop-off from negatively affecting beverage revenues, you need to prioritize your alcohol offerings by putting them at the top or first connecting to a landing page that broadly delineates for food and beverage options
  • Now think in terms of tabulated menus similar to online ordering apps where this sectioning facilitates less scrolling and more visibility on desired food or beverage categories, although this refinement often can’t be done without bugs for the browser version
  • To drive app downloads and thus provide a better digital menu experience, you need nudges like putting the WiFi password right need to the matrix barcode which redirects to the app download page (although this likely won’t be enough of an incentive versus going straight into the browser version)
  • As abovementioned, app downloads can be required to access certain promotions or freebies, which can be further rationalized for multi-operation hotels where the app provides a convenient path to purchase for not only the restaurant but also room service, spa, gift shop, golf tee times, virtual concierge, housekeeping, activities or maintenance orders
  • App or HTML, the wider trend is that menus are becoming more interactive, so expect to see such additions like on-click images, cinemagraphs or GIFs of dishes, curated UGC and promotional or announcement pop-up banners (possibly with an ‘order now’ functionality that puts an order directly through to the kitchen instead of waiting on the server)

Connecting the Guestroom and Onsite Amenities

As we transition to the QR experience version 2.0, it’s only natural that this coincide with the deployment of more IoT devices and the evolution towards a bona fide connected room. This tech can indeed offer a series of contextual and filtered actions to enhance the in-room experience, including but not limited to:

  • Placing a matrix barcode by the door to facilitate express check-out by already knowing the room number
  • This same QR placed by the door could also be used for guests to signal when they are departing for the day to schedule a stayover clean and to notify the smart thermostat for energy savings
  • In a now-cashless society, branded QRs can increase total tips (and provide tracking on those tips) to offer a non-wage incentive for keeping room attendants versus competitors who don’t have an easy pathway for guests to leave a tip
  • Speaking of housekeeping, if your brand is going the opt-in route, QRs can act as a fluid portal for on-demand cleaning services (perhaps even prompting an app download in the process)
  • To help mollify the QR overload and physical signage objections, QRs can be inserted on digital displays like TVs – an action which also helps address several of the security concerns whereby hackers can use false QR codes to install malware on unsuspecting phone
  • As a future use case, QRs on interactive TVs can be used for content-as-a-service (CaaS) advertising where hotels get a slice of the clickthrough bids and conversion value

Next, for on-demand amenities, the versatility of QRs allow hotels to maintain service in a labor-light operative model by letting guests order whenever and from wherever they want. Especially for full-service properties, some possibilities include:

  • Because resort staff is reduced and often can’t spend time patrolling a beach for orders, location-specific QRs can be used to call food or drinks to a chaise or cabana without the guest needing to walk up to the bar
  • QRs can be used alongside image-driven advertisements for onsite experiences where access then links directly back to the right webpage of curated activities (or, even better, to prompt an app download)
  • Finally, to readdress the concern that frictionless ordering via QR codes will render hotel associates into mere fulfillment agents, it’s important to consider how you can channel the time savings from this tech into service improvements, either through actual product enhancements that may not have been possible given previous labor limitations or retraining so that staff can engage guests on a non-transactional level

Having made it this far, you can tell that some use cases may apply to your organization and some do not. It really comes down to the last bullet point in that hotels can never loss sight of the human element in service-oriented business. Any QR functionality you set up must ultimately never take away from the guest experience, but add convenience and increase amenity awareness so that your teams can focus their limited time on other product evolutions.

Together, Adam and Larry Mogelonsky represent one of the world’s most published writing teams in hospitality, with over a decade’s worth of material online. As the partners of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice, Larry focuses on asset management, sales and operations while Adam specializes in hotel technology and marketing. Their experience encompasses properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Their work includes seven books: “In Vino Veritas: A Guide for Hoteliers and Restaurateurs to Sell More Wine” (2022), “More Hotel Mogel” (2020), “The Hotel Mogel” (2018), “The Llama is Inn” (2017), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “Llamas Rule” (2013) and “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012). You can reach Larry at larry@hotelmogel.com or Adam at adam@hotelmogel.com to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.

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