Paper menus have always been an expensive, clunky, dirty solution to a problem easily solved by simple technology. It took 2020 to convince most of us of that.
According to a recent survey, around 37% of U.S. citizens won’t resume activities like they did before the outbreak of COVID-19.
That has profound implications for the hospitality industry. Restaurant cleanliness was already one of the most important factors in guests’ dining choices. But where cleanliness was once a nice-to-have, it’s now an absolute necessity.
But here we are. We can now confidently say that paper menus are a risk and a detriment to running a successful, healthy hospitality business. Because paper menus are, hands down, the filthiest and most contaminated item on a restaurant table.
Here’s what the experts are saying:
“If you use paper menus, discard them after each customer use,” according to the National Restaurant Association’s guidelines for safely reopening and operating a food service business.
The CDC makes a similar recommendation that all shared-use menus be “disposable or digital menus.”
One way to align your business with all these expert recommendations is with single use menus. They’re a solution to the problem of shared-item contamination. Not the ideal solution, but an appropriate one.
That’s because they’re not 100% touchless menus. And totally touchless menus are the gold standard of safety today. When it comes down to it, a contactless QR-based digital restaurant table menu is the best way to facilitate germ-free dining experiences.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about single use menus.
Single Use Menu Definition
A single use menu—also called a disposable menu—is any menu designed to be used only once. After they're used, they're recycled or thrown out. Single use menus have historically been used for special events, like private parties or weddings. Any occasion where the menu is specific to that one-time dining experience.
Today, though, the presence of single use menus is expanding beyond such use cases. Their adoption is growing rapidly because they’re far more hygienic than shared use menus.
Single Use Menu Example
Because a single use menu is discarded after each use, it’s a smaller, condensed version of a full menu. Check out the examples of our table d’hote menu or our prix fixe menu for what a scaled-down version of a menu for a single event can look like.
Single Use Menu Design
A single use menu used as an ongoing replacement for a primary menu will necessarily look different than a single use menu for an event, like a prix fixe menu. Here are two important guidelines to consider when converting your full menu to a scaled-down, single use menu:
- Use one page only, and print double-sided menus to save paper and printing costs.
- Move drinks, desserts, kids meals, upselling suggestions, and other static non-food options to a sanitizable table tent or custom QR code menu.
Single Use Menu Advantages
There are three advantages to a single use menu. First, if you’re discarding menus after every use, you’ll be printing them often. That means you can change what’s printed on them more often. Second, they can signal an upscale experience. And third, less people touch them. They’re much less likely to become contaminated and dangerous.
In most restaurants, menus change fairly frequently. Whether the result of menu engineering or of inventory turnover. If you’re constantly printing out new menus, you’ll always have a menu that accurately reflects what’s available.
And you can lean into that. If you’re already printing massive quantities of menus, then switching up your menu items isn’t a huge deal. Single use menus are a good opportunity to add or remove things from your menu and test the results.
Single use menus are perfectly suited for private parties, weddings, banquets, galas, or any other special events that have their own one-time menu. There is a level of service and luxury associated with some disposable menus—mostly around the menu being a specially-curated, one-time experience. No one will be able to enjoy it after you. It was a unique and ephemeral experience. It’s gone now. Like a fancy James Bond gadget that self-destructs.
There are 185,000 germs per square centimeter on the average paper menu. That is, sadly, more than an average public toilet. While shocking at first, it’s easier to understand if you think about the numbers. Literally thousands of people touch paper menus before they’re cleaned or replaced. If they’re ever cleaned or replaced.
A single use menu or a disposable menu solves that problem immediately. While there is still some small risk of contamination, it’s infinitesimally smaller than a paper menu that’s been shared in the same dining room for weeks or months.
Single Use Menu Disadvantages
The downsides of disposable menus or single use menus revolve mainly around the cost of constantly printing them. Though there is something else to be said about their level of hygiene.
Single Use Menu Printing Costs
A high-quality, one-page paper menu printed in black and white costs around 50 cents. If you do 100 covers for lunch. If you’re discarding those menus after each use per the NRA and CDC recommendations, that’s $50 in menu costs for one lunch shift. It adds up:
This is the most obvious disadvantage of single use menus—and one that we hear from clients over and over. If you run a relatively high-volume operation, switching to single use menus is effectively becoming a small printing press.
They’re Not 100% Touchless
Single use menus are without a doubt a massive improvement over shared and reusable menus. But they aren’t perfect. Single use menus are still physically present in the dining room and at risk of airborne contamination. They’re still handled by managers, servers, bartenders, bussers, and hosts. The only perfect option when it comes to contamination and germ transmission is an option with no physical presence.
Single Use Menu vs. QR Code Menu
A QR code menu solves all the problems of reusable menus, single use menus, and menu apps. And its advantages can be applied to all types of menu. Here’s how.
- It’s inexpensive to create and maintain (just beware the QR code security risks of using free QR code PDF generators online and the need for PDF accessibility). That saves you the cost of incessantly printing new menus or building a standalone menu app from scratch. But, at the end of the day, learning how to make a QR code—getting from URL to QR code—is easy.
- They are totally touchless. Customers scan your QR code with their mobile device and are taken to your digital menu. The only thing a guest touches is their own phone. If you’re serious about germ-free dining, QR codes are the answer.
- You don’t have to condense your menu. A QR code fits on a minimal QR code template. QR code menus themselves don’t have the same real estate restraints a physical single use menu has. They live online and can be as extensive as you want.
- They’re easier for guests to navigate than paper menus. Take a quick look at how to scan a QR code and how to run a QR code test to see how easy they are to use. A QR code menu is specifically designed for the device scanning it: a mobile device. Because QR code menus are optimized for mobile, they’re easier to navigate. Guests can flip through categorized tabs and alphabetized items, and they can even search by keyword or menu item. Digital menus also open up web accessibility for you, which increases your menu's visibility to a huge market segment. The right technology company can even get you an ADA compliant QR code menu right out of the, which saves money on ADA remediation.
- They’re easier for guests to find than paper menus. If you want your digital menu to show up in Google, it can. That makes it easy for potential diners to discover you. They can even be propped up a table tent; QR codes on tables are a great way to get in front of guests.
- Dynamic QR code menus can be edited in seconds and track usage metrics. If the idea of testing new menu items, pricing strategies, and layouts appeals to you, the ideal is a digital menu using a dynamic QR code. It’s the right choice for any restaurant or bar manager who values both agility and analytics.
Here's a chart that sums up the differences between QR code-based menus and paper menus:
What's more, possible QR code uses in restaurants are vast. From QR code marketing and QR code tracking to touchless ordering and payments to QR code nutritional information. Hospitality is dramatically changing because of this little, simple restaurant technology. Once you integrate QR codes, you'll find no shortage of ways the technology can make your restaurant cleaner and more efficient.
Book a demo and we’ll walk you through how QR-based digital menu technology is completely transforming hospitality businesses today. By adopting a digital menu, you’ll not only save time and money, but you’ll signal to your customer base that you take their safety seriously. Because, well, you’ll be taking their safety seriously.
Single Use Menus: A Solution, but Not the Best Solution
2020 brought with it a new focus on personal hygiene and the adoption of social distancing. Contactless commerce will play a big part in realizing those going forward.
In fact, almost two-thirds of diners support no physical menus as a rule of thumb for bars and restaurants to follow.Customer expectations are set. We, as an industry, should deliver on them.
So, what’s an easy, inexpensive solution for bars and restaurants to adopt right now to help get aligned with this new normal?
The QR code.
The QR code is so useful at preventing the spread of pathogens that the Chinese government used the format to give hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens QR health codes. These scannable color-coded QR codes were relied upon heavily by China when effectively combating the initial stages of the outbreak.
If they can play a part in saving a country, they can help your bar or restaurant business.