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We’ve all had the unfortunate restaurant experience of aimlessly poring over the menu for 15 minutes and nothing stands out. We go so far as reading the ingredients, praying that our taste buds will speak up. It’s a painful feeling. Conversely, we’ve all been to a restaurant where the menu speaks to us and within mere seconds our eyes land on exactly what we’re in the mood for. This is no coincidence.

Menu designers will tell you a menu is equally as important as what shows up on your plate. But what if the menu described (and showed) the food you would be served?

I’m not talking about a menu with pictures. I’m referring to an augmented reality menu which physically projects the food you’re interested in onto your table. This concept is best visualized, so watch the video below:

As you can see, the spinning 3D model of the food shows the textures, colors, and portions of food in a way that a stagnant menu picture cannot.

Kabaq is the AR company who created that menu you saw Ryan and I interacting with and they are easily the leader of this industry. Interestingly, when Kabaq worked with Backyard Betty’s, a restaurant in Boston, they made it simple on their customers by integrating the AR menu with Snapchat – creating a scannable Snapchat Lens. It was so unique that the restaurant made it to their city-wide news.

Hololamp is paving a slightly different path to the virtual menu. They’ve created a tabletop device that projects 3D menu items directly onto the dinner table for everyone to see. It’s interesting because they eliminate the need to bring out phones or AR glasses to view the virtual menu (but asks more of a financial investment from the restaurant).

At this point, you may be skeptical as to whether or not AR menus have true potential beyond a technology ploy.

Gimmick or Guide to the Future?

A good menu clearly distills information to customers. A great menu guides the customer through a journey (and simultaneously upsells them). I think we can all agree that visual representations help us decide what to eat. Think about the sizzling fajitas passing by your table or the “I’ll have what she’s having”.

Still, though, restaurants aren’t champing at the bit to create AR menus. But I think they just need a little convincing to start a massive chain reaction. Below is a video on why we believe this is not a gimmick and is actually a guide to the future:

AR Menus Everywhere

To piggyback off Ryan’s point, it’s inevitable that the graphics are going to get better with time and the cost to create an AR menu will continue to fall.

Currently, the cost associated with turning an entire menu into an AR experience is just too much for the average restaurant. But an AR menu makes a ton of sense for sit-down, chain restaurants that operate dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of locations.

Buffalo Wild Wings, Applebee’s, Golden Corral, etc. all of these restaurants have a standard menu they push out to their thousands of locations, so the cost of development would be negligible in the grand scheme of things.

Not to mention, this is an optimal opportunity for a nationwide marketing campaign that shows off a brand’s forward-thinking. As I mentioned in the article, Domino’s will trade Pizza for Your Data in its latest marketing trick:

In 2019, moving forward, releasing new technology can be a means of content marketing. The high barrier to entry in creating a technology product means a few are using it as a marketing technique. But today, new technology enters and exits our headspace faster than it takes to hang up on a voice-automated spam call. This means that a successful or failed technology release is not as paramount nor catastrophic for a brand as it once was.

I think we’ll see an AR menu rollout from Applebee’s (or a comparably-sized restaurant chain) within 5 years.

However, if AR menus want to have staying power and become a staple in our society, we must find a way to cater to every restaurant that isn’t a chain.

We can increase the AR menu adoption at local restaurants by empowering local photographers.

If I were an AR development company, I’d focus on creating the tools, guides, and equipment that make it simple for photographers to create AR menus. Then, package and sell that AR Menu Kit.

There are two reasons why freelance photographers are ideal for this:

  • Photographers are used to spending large amounts of money on equipment to improve their business (more so than a restaurant is)
  • Photographers are familiar with visual editing software

Not to mention, it could be a great new stream of revenue for them, while providing value to local restaurants.

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