There are two ends of the restaurant spectrum: fast food and fine dining. As polarized as it gets, these two types of restaurants have practically nothing in common aside from the fact that they sell food. The type of food served between fine dining and fast food restaurants is incomparable–the service functions in a completely different manner and the atmosphere goes from being the utmost importance to being little to none. 

Recently, I went out to eat with a friend at Bartaco in Brookline: the new location of the popular Boston chain. I had been to Bartaco previously; however, my friend hadn't which made me realize that QR code ordering is a foreign concept to many people. Ever since the pandemic put a damper on our favorite activity (eating out, duh!), restaurants have found new ways to give customers back the sacred pleasure of pigging out. One of those solutions includes switching to QR code menus and ordering.

QR codes have introduced something revolutionary to the food scene but detrimental to the service side of restaurants: a balance point in which fine dining intersects with fast food. At restaurants that use QR codes, the food quality is just as complex and delicious and the menu is just as extensive and varied; however, the middle man has been taken away. A server’s job is no longer to provide you with an experience, but simply to bring you your food. Though I personally view this as a positive thing, many argue that it isn't.

Is service dead?

Valuing restaurant service is similar to the concept of chivalry in one’s relationship. Some people may say they value chivalry within their relationship and that it is a defining factor on whether or not a partner is meeting your needs. Some people, however, may say screw chivalry and put their priorities in the more nonchalant aspects of their relationship. This very contradiction in opinion applies to service in a restaurant: there are people who view good service as a necessity to enjoying a  meal and there are people who couldn't care less.

With QR codes, everything is digital. You order online, you pay online, you can split the check online, keep a tab open online–the list goes on. Anything you need can be satisfied through a quick scan of the QR code with your phone, and everything is at your fingertips in an instant.

For those who care about the attentiveness or niceties of a server to enhance their dining experience, the QR code menu style restaurants are likely not for you. That's not to say that the servers aren't there to cater to your needs, but their job is less about checking up on you and more about getting you your food. To simplify it: for anyone who is familiar with the inner workings of a restaurant, the server is a character most comparable to a mix between a runner and a busser.

For those of you who, like myself, go out to eat for the food and company rather than the service–not to mention the subtle social anxiety that surfaces each time I have to order in a restaurant–the QR code is your most loyal companion. It's there to shelter you from the intimidating act of speaking to a stranger, to save you from touching an unclean menu, to give you access to your bill at a moment's notice, more food when you're still hungry, more drinks when your glass is empty…shall I continue? Or is my support vivid enough as is?

To tip or not to tip

Here lies a debate as old as time (or at least as old as online ordering and takeout orders): what is the appropriate amount to tip a server? How about a host who took your takeout order and packaged it for you? And how does all this change with QR code ordering? Are you still supposed to tip them the same as you would have while ordering in-person? All entirely valid questions, all entirely debatable, all entirely subjective.

This is where I plead my case on behalf of the servers at Bartaco and any other QR code-style menu system. Take it from someone who has experience in a variety of restaurant sectors. I have been the host, the server, the runner, and the busser. I have yet to cook, but that's irrelevant here. None of it is easy work, and most of it goes unappreciated; it truly sucks to be undertipped, especially undeservedly.

I can see the argument of someone wanting to tip less at restaurants using QR codes, but I strongly urge you not to. When you sit down at a place like Bartaco, you know what you're getting yourself into, and if you don’t, do your research! Beyond that, QR code menus don't make it any easier for the servers. The servers are still at your beck and call, they just won't check in on you unless it's requested; there's still a level of customer service, they still are required to complete side work, it's still their job to clean up after you. The server’s job description does not change–only their function does. Not to mention, servers still make minimum wage, with the majority of the money they earn coming from tips. 

Call me casual, and call me sympathetic to servers; but this new wave of QR codes is creating a new sector of dining. Who knows? Maybe I'll be the one to coin the “casual classy” sector of the food scene.