QR Code Marketing & Strategy for Bars and Restaurants

September 25, 2020
Scott Schulfer
Table of Contents
QR Code Menu

91% of iPhone users can scan a QR code with their phone’s built-in Camera app. That number will gradually grow to 100% as older versions of iOS disappear.

The numbers are similar for Android devices. The vast majority of people have the ability to scan a QR code in seconds. And scanning a QR code is simple: check out how to scan a QR code. By 2022, over one billion smartphones will have easy access to QR code scanning. This little nondescript piece of technology gives you access to an enormous pool of customers.

And that makes it particularly useful to the bar and restaurant industry. QR codes will also play a massive part in the rise of contactless menus. So let’s go over the many ways hospitality can use QR codes to spread the good word about their business. And some of the most impactful places you can put your QR code.

QR Code Marketing Ideas and Examples

There are four primary ways to use QR codes in restaurants for marketing. QR code menus, promotions and deals, unique information, and personalization.

QR Code Menus

This moment is uniquely suited for the growth of touchless menus that use QR codes. How clean a bar or restaurant was already a hugely important factor for diners deciding where to eat or drink. In fact, a study found that around 75% of people avoid restaurants and bars with negative reviews about cleanliness.

Couple that with the fact that paper menus are proven to be the single dirtiest thing on restaurant tables. It’s a perfect storm. Getting rid of single use menus makes your bar or restaurant safer, and it communicates to your guests that you take their safety seriously.

They’re also way more accessible for customers. Anywhere a customer sees your menu’s QR code, they can scan it and check out your menu or digital wine list. They can be either a QR code PDF or HTML document, though a lot of the free online QR code generators that make PDFs carry some QR code risks. Here's how to find the best QR code generator and minimize your risk. And, if using a PDF, you'll need to pay special attention to PDF accessibility. It’s one of the easiest, most affordable ways to get your menu out there. It takes literally a second for someone to scan it.

As an aside, most QR code menus are made using dynamic QR codes. Read more about the static vs dynamic QR code to learn more.

Download An App

While we unreservedly champion QR code menus over menu apps, there’s certainly value in having a multifunctional restaurant app. Especially if you’re a chain or you’ve got enough locations to benefit from making the customer experience consistent.

QR codes can be used to bring customers directly to an app store to download your app. It’s a lot easier to convert downloads when customers are already in the app store. In that sense, a QR code is also a great way to optimize conversion rates.

Contact Information and Directions

If you make it easier to find your place, more people will come. Most folks search for your business name then click on a result when they want directions. Few folks type your entire address into Google Maps. That means, if you’re not showing up in Google’s local results, people won’t have easy access to your address.

A custom QR code encoded with your address that pops up in Google Maps makes it ultra easy for people to get directions to your place.


A QR code is typically associated with one piece of information, and that’s often a URL. Though it can be an image, a document, or anything else that’s encodable. But it’s usually transforming a URL to QR code. That’s why you can scan one and it brings you to an online menu.

But you can also associate your QR code with a page that lists your current deals, specials, and promotions.

When someone scans the code, they’ll see all your happy hour specials, rotating deals, your special prix fixe menu, and whatever else you want to put front-and-center.

Tableside Information

At Boston’s 606 Congress, fresh fish is served with a side of QR code. When scanned, the code reveals all sorts of information about the fish. The species, the name of the boat, the boat’s captain, the day of the catch, etc.

That type of contextual marketing is effective at creating repeat customers and generating word-of-mouth buzz. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just about the food, either. It can be all types of menu, pairing suggestions from your food and wine pairing menu.

There is lots of information about the food or drinks you serve that will enhance a guest’s experience. So think about providing it via QR code. And, truth be told, almost all context will enhance experience. Embracing QR code on food is actually one of the best ways to drive meaningful conversation around consumer values. And using a QR code on table tents or displays is an effective way to do it. Any time we can imbue an activity with meaning, it becomes meaningful. No surprise there.

Customer Feedback and Reviews

Post-experience interaction is an often overlooked part of hospitality marketing. A great way to leverage QR codes in this respect is taking customers directly to a place where they provide feedback.

This can be a third-party review site like Yelp or Google or private feedback sent directly to you. Regardless, it’s a lot easier to gain repeat customers if you’re building a positive presence online and you’re reacting to your customers’ feedback. And it’s a lot easier to do both of those if you’re sending customers directly to your review site with a quick scan of a QR code. And we mean quick. QR stands for "quick response," and the QR code was designed specifically for speed.

Personalized QR Codes

Some QR codes offer advanced functionality that turns them into a conduit for continued interaction with customers. Some, for example, are able to surface different deals at different meal times. Or plug in to loyalty programs and give repeat guests tailor-made offers based on their past purchases.

The idea of what some call “smart QR codes” is that it’s not just an access point for a menu. Or a one-time delivery of information. It’s a tool to have ongoing, personalized relationships with customers.

That, in turn, generates a large amount of data about your customers and their behavior. That’s data you can use to engage in some menu engineering to boost menu sales and profitability.

As … Food?

We didn’t include this as one of the four primary QR code marketing strategies, but it’s worth bringing up. If for nothing other than a hearty chuckle.

San Diego’s Harney Sushi includes a QR code much like 606 Congress. It accompanies seafood and provides unique information about it. But at Harney, you can eat it. It’s printed on rice paper and placed on top of the sushi.

It’s not all fun and games, though. Many medical professionals think edible QR codes are the future of prescription drugs.

Regardless, eating QR codes is interesting enough to touch on here. But you may not find them a realistic approach to QR code marketing just yet.

A QR code is used for so many things, and that's what makes it such a better menu technology than a menu app.

Measurable Marketing Campaigns

Being able to measure a marketing campaign’s performance is the best way to tweak its execution and ultimately succeed. Most of the above QR code marketing examples above can be made measurable. That makes purposefully iterating on them easier, because you’ll have a baseline frame of reference.

To make your QR code marketing campaigns measurable, you have to use dynamic QR codes instead of static QR codes. Dynamic QR codes allow for QR code tracking. Their usage and scans can be tracked. That means you can start recording how many scans, downloads, pageviews, time of scan, location of scan, scanning device, and more. That information is invaluable when it comes to reacting to the data and sharpening up your QR code marketing strategy.

Best Places to Put Restaurant QR Codes

So those are the primary types of QR code marketing a bar or restaurant can do. And now that you’ve got your content associated with a scannable QR code, where are the best places to put it? We’ve got 9 spots for you. We suggest printing your QR codes out on sticker paper for physical placement (here's a useful QR code template) and uploading the digital image as a PNG for digital placement.

  • Your website. Make your QR code easily visible on your homepage, ideally high up so a visitor doesn’t have to scroll down to find it. That’s the first place most folks will seek to engage with your bar or restaurant.
  • Third-party menu or review sites. Even if you publish your menu on your own site, you’ll likely show up in third-party sites like Yelp. Include your QR code menu on your business page there.
  • Social media. Having your QR code menu pinned to the top of your social media feed is helpful. Along with blasting out QR code promotions as they run.
  • The front door. A QR code right smack-dab on the middle of your front door is about as visible as it gets.
  • Menu stands. The menu stands or hanging menu cases outside your bar or restaurant are ideal candidates to have their paper menus replaced or supplemented with QR code menus.
  • Restaurant tables. This can be a contactless menu or information like 606 Congress uses. It can be on the table itself, on coasters, on a stand near the condiments, or on a nearby wall. This may also be a good place to put a graphic about how to scan QR codes.
  • Receipts. Print a QR code with deals and promotions on every receipt.
  • Booking confirmation emails. An automated email that confirms a reservation is a great place for a scannable code for a contactless menu.
  • Takeout containers. Deals and promotions or unique information can be associated with QR codes and placed on boxes, bags, and other takeout containers.
QR code menu

QR Code Strategy for Success

A QR code strategy for marketing is similar to other high-level marketing strategies. You’ve got to know your audience, set goals, test any tools or features you’re rolling out, deliver great customer experiences, and set up tracking. The two most important of these are setting up and tracking goals. Otherwise “success” has no meaning.

Set Goals

Ask yourself, in an ideal world, what does the successful usage of QR codes look like for your business? More app downloads? More unique visitors to your published menu? If you know exactly what you’re after, you can design a strategy around it. This can’t be overstated. You shouldn’t start marketing with QR codes without a specific goal in mind. In fact, nobody should really start marketing anything without a specific goal in mind. Otherwise you’re treading water with no idea of what success looks like.

Test Your Codes Before Rollout

When QR codes can’t be scanned, it’s for one or two reasons. One, it’s operator error and the person scanning is doing something. Two, it’s business error and the creator of the QR code didn’t create an optimal QR code. Here’s a useful roundup of common QR code scanning problems. If your QR code is consistently scannable and hits all those points, you can roll it out to the public without fear. But don’t roll an untested QR code out. 

Deliver Mobile-Optimized Experiences

Mobile devices scan QR codes. In no world will a file, experience, or website optimized for a desktop browser be ideal for a QR code. Make sure that everything you intend to surface to your customers is perfectly suited for mobile consumption. That means it’s 100% responsive to the common screen sizes and resolutions of mobile devices. 

Doing that can take some programming experience. Which is why it’s usually wiser to partner with a company that not only creates the QR codes for you, but optimizes everything for mobile. Like SproutQR's digital menu. It's optimized for mobile and ADA compliant—which saves money on ADA remediation and sets your digital menu up, structurally, for easy search engine crawlability.

Track Goals

This is the fun part. Once you’ve set your goals, you watch the scan data roll in and either celebrate or make a few adjustments. With the ultimate goal of celebrating.

Dynamic QR codes allow you to track a litany of scan data for your QR code. That includes total scans, unique scans, number of scans, scan time, date, location, and device. 

If your QR code is linking to an app in an app store, you can track downloads. If it’s sending folks to your website, you can track pageviews, time on page, and more. As you start collecting this data throughout the lifespan of your QR code, you’ll be able to tweak your strategy and get closer to your goals.

The real point here is that, if you want to track QR code marketing goals, you need to use a dynamic QR code. If you create and roll out static QR codes, you’re out of luck. The usage of static QR codes cannot be tracked.

QR Code Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

We’ve seen our fair share of QR code marketing blunders, being in the business. Everyone wants to learn how to make a QR code. Without naming names, here are some of the most impactful ways businesses have undercut their own QR code marketing efforts. Beware, future marketers. (They’re easy to avoid, don’t worry.)

  • Don’t get too creative with the size of your QR code. The ideal distance-to-size ratio of a mobile device to the QR code it’s scanning is 10:1. That means if someone is 10 inches from your code, it’s optimally scannable as 1 square inch. If someone is 20 inches away, 2 square inches. And so on. Abide by these QR code minimum size rules.
  • Do not provide customers a document or send customers to a website that is not mobile-optimized. This came up previously in this post. This is a huge customer experience red flag. When someone scans a QR code, they expect the rest of the experience to be in kind. Relatively smooth, lightweight, and easy. If they’re brought to a clunky, unwieldy document or site that they have to wrestle with to view on mobile, you’ve lost. You must seriously prioritize mobile responsiveness.
  • Don’t assume people will scan your QR code because it’s a QR code. They may be relatively new technology, but QR codes are no longer a novelty. They don’t incite raw curiosity like they once did. You have to give customers a reason to scan a QR code, like you’d have to give them a reason to take any other action. If you’re bringing them to a list of daily specials, make that obvious. If the QR code is for an app download, say so. You’ll still need compelling marketing copy if you want a successful marketing campaign.
  • Test your code. There is nothing—nothing—worse than rolling out a marketing campaign or deploying a technical feature and it not working. Not only do you lose the initial marketing momentum, but you create a bad, incompetent association with your customer base. Make sure your QR code is scannable from different distances, angles, and devices. Make sure it takes you where you want to go. 

QR Code Marketing Is Fun

Do people use QR codes? They sure do. QR codes are a simple, fun piece of bar and restaurant technology to leverage. They give you access to an enormous amount of potential customers and a bunch of different uses.

The most immediate and impactful way to use QR codes is by replacing your paper menus with touchless menus. Every customer is looking out for restaurants at the cutting edge of hygiene right now. A contactless, scannable menu is a ridiculously easy solution to implement. Not only does it make your bar or restaurant safer, but it makes customers feel safer. And that’s great marketing in and of itself.

Eliminate the hassle, cost, and risk of single-use paper menus. Schedule a demo now:
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