Cracking the QR code

The bottom line: Operators can reach new customers and stay on the cutting edge of technology trends by using QR codes—the pixilated black and white boxes you see in ads—in their marketing.

QR codes are a type of bar code image. Scan one with your smartphone or iPad and you’re sent to a website. You see these in ads a lot now. It’s a much easier way to send people to a web page than simply listing a URL address.

Anything with a URL, in fact, can be linked to through a QR code. A code on an operator’s menu could link to nutritional information or a feedback form. A code at the restaurant door could link to your Facebook page. An advertising mailer could include a link to the restaurant’s location on Google maps or a coupon that a customer can bring in and show on a smartphone. A take home menu could link to a restaurant's online ordering system. "It's going to be like any other marketing opportunity. It's up to the restaurateur to put the creativity to it," says Brian Clark, marketing director with Fishbowl, a provider of on-demand marketing software and services for the restaurant industry. He sees restaurants adopting QR codes as a way to quickly get customers onto email lists without having to fill out paper forms.

Restaurants are starting to use them more often, but there are still plenty who need to understand how they work. A great opportunity for consultative selling.

Getting started with QR codes is simple. Tom Haines, co-owner of Olo Yogurt Studio in Albuquerque, used bit.ly, a website that creates QR codes. Olo’s code, printed on mailers and its menu, leads customers to the yogurt shop's Google Places page. It allows him to track the number of customers that use the code, too. "A company can use it to put forth an image that says they are more cutting edge," says Haines. They are also, he notes, inexpensive, attractive to young customers and can provide useful metrics.

It's easy to get wrapped up in cool new technologies, but Clark says restaurateurs should be reminded that QR codes are tools. "The technology itself is so simple that anything you could do with any other form of marketing is fair game," he says.

Resources to point operators to

App: bit.ly
Get it: http://bit.ly

Sign up for bit.ly and use the online URL shortener to make your link shorter. Copy that URL into the address bar on your browser and add ".qr" to the end. This link will take you to a QR code image that you can copy and use in your promotional materials. It comes with the added benefit of tracking.

App: Scan
Get it: qrcodecity.com

This app supports iPhone, iPad 2 and iPod Touch with camera. It simplifies the QR code scanning process. Open the app, point the camera and listen for the satisfying click. The code comes to life and the information is immediately at your fingertips.

App: WalkIN
Get it: walkinapp.com

WalkIN is working on ways to take your waiting list high tech. Customers scan in the wait list QR code and are then notified on their iPhone or Android smartphone when the table is ready. The company is brand new, so the app availability is not yet known.


—Amanda C. Kooser


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