Among the countless ways COVID is altering the meal journey is the humble menu. Gone are the germy, reusable laminated menus of the past, and while single-use paper menus are a cheap stopgap, the whole experience will move to our mobile phones.
There’s a problem with ordering through mobile menus, though: they aren’t very enticing. Unless you’re familiar with the restaurant you’re ordering from, you’re scrolling and swiping through a lengthy list of tiny 2D thumbnail images to find what you want.
But new research out of Oxford University shows that augmented reality (AR) could be the way to create appetizing menus on your mobile phone. Oxford’s study, conducted in Oxford, England last year in partnership with the AR company Qreal, a subsidiary of The Glimpse Group, gave some participants traditional menus and others AR-capable menus that presented the virtual food as it would look right in front of them on the table.
Highlights from the study, which were emailed to The Spoon, found that “Participants were significantly more likely to order a dessert if they viewed options in the AR menu (41.2%) versus the control menu (18%).” This was across age groups and sexes, as well as across familiarity with AR, so it wasn’t just tech-savvy folk indulging in a shiny new toy.
Not only that, but participants in the study using the AR menu also “spent significantly more on dessert than those in the control condition, $2.93 versus $1.38 (increase of 112%)”
As Mike Cadoux, General Manager of Qreal, summed it up with me over the phone last week, the addition of AR plays into the old adage that you “eat with your eyes first.”
“It’s like a test drive for a car,” said Cadoux, “Same way when you buy food, you want to think about what it’s like to eat it.”
If the results of this study had been released even six months ago, it probably would have been viewed as more of an interesting idea. A nice-to-have kind of thing, but definitely a can kicked down the road in favor of something more pressing.
The coronavirus, however, could accelerate AR’s adoption in the restaurant industry. First, as noted, even if you can (legally and emotionally) to sit and dine in a restaurant, the menu is moving towards mobile, so restaurants need to rethink their digital strategy and how they present their food to customers to begin with.
But more pressing is the fact that the restaurant business was already moving towards off-premises eating before the pandemic and now relies on delivery and takeout to stay alive. This, in turn means that more people will be selecting their meals from the comfort of their couch via mobile phone.
“Instead of a thumbnail of a picture,” Cadoux said, “You can view it in 3D and move it to an AR experience.” AR gives customers a better sense of what the food will look like, from all angles, when it’s on their own plates on and tables.
In addition to restaurants, third-party delivery services, with their marketplaces and massive audiences, should also be looking closely at providing an AR option.
There are the economics of a shift to an AR menu for any restaurant of delivery service to consider. But thanks to Apple and Google, AR technology is easier than ever to implement. And while the Oxford study doesn’t prove outright that implementing AR menus will guarantee increased sales, the study is a nice data point that seems to indicate it’s worth at least experimenting with it.