The CulinaryWoman Newsletter, 6/19/22
QR codes: blessing or curse?
Hello, CulinaryWoman readers! We’re so glad you’re here on this festive weekend.
Celebrations of Pride continue around the world. It’s Father’s Day in the U.S. and a number of other places. And this is Juneteenth, which will be a federal holiday tomorrow and a state holiday in a number of places. Sending much love to everyone enjoying celebrations.
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The Conversation About QR Codes
A couple weekends back, we saw Top Gun: Maverick and went to the Port Orleans Brewing Company - not for beer, but for the Lucy Boone ice cream pop up that is held there on weekends. After eating dessert first, we decided to order food. Every table had what has become a familiar sight in many cities: a laminated card with a QR code,
In case you aren’t familiar with them, it’s a little square comprised of coding. You point your smartphone camera at it, and receive a link to the menu. Once you click on it, you generally can order online, although some places still have humans to note what you want to eat.
I like QR codes lot. For me, they’re easier than browsing a long card or reading through pages of available dishes. Service tends to be speedy: the tacos we ordered arrived in 10 minutes.
But it turns out that a number of diners wish they would go away. They enjoy the old-school feel of a printed menu. Additionally, a restaurant has to sync its technology to an order system, and link it to the kitchen. Without coordination and continual updates, all kinds of glitches can occur.
Pros and cons
Two of my fellow Washington Post writers took opposing views on the feature. Helaine Olen says they can’t disappear fast enough. “They are unnecessary, anti-social, discriminatory and unpopular,” she wrote. “They fully degrade the experience of dining out.”
She has what might seem a romantic attachment to menus. “A physical menu sets the stage. It highlights the fact that this is a special occasion, even if it’s simply a quick bite at a local diner,” she wrote. “The menu signifies that it’s time to take a break in a busy day, that this meal is something separate from the normal course of events. It also pushes us to interact with others. We share menus. We point to things; we ask the wait staff questions about the meal and what they particularly like.”
Helaine went on, “It’s like opening a program at a theater, for a show you and your companions are about to experience together.”
But, Robert Gebelhoff believes they are a benefit to diners. Robert, who says he is far from a tech enthusiast, wrote, “…I am willing to acknowledge when technology makes life a little more convenient, even at the expense of long-established routines. And so just as I’ve (finally) accepted mobile boarding passes, I have come to embrace QR codes for restaurant menus.”
He asks, “What actual advantages do physical menus have over mobile versions? Physical menus are often bulky and take up space on the table. They must be replaced when changed or overused. Waiters must run around handing them out, collecting them, and then handing them out again if customers want to see dessert options.”
Online menus, by contrast, “are easy to access and update. They give restaurants more flexibility to experiment with food options. I once went to a restaurant that let customers take a personality quiz on their phones to determine what cocktail best suited them. Was it necessary or based in any sort of science? Absolutely not. But it was fun!”
Some alternative keepsakes
QR code menus work in many circumstances. We are now used to ordering delivery and takeout via apps, so doing so in casual restaurant is not a stretch. I still get a kick out of tapping on my phone and having someone arrive with a bag of delicious food. I find it as delightful to choose exactly what I want at a dining establishment and have it arrive.
Beat up or stained menus don’t do a place any favors. I can’t tell you how many times I watched servers dump menus into a bin, as if ready to be rid of the process. Restaurants waste mountains of paper on them, and I’ve always appreciated restaurants that posted their daily menus on a chalkboard. If you’re a regular at a restaurant, you probably don’t take a menu anyway.
Now, there are definitely circumstances where physical menus play a role. We expect them at upscale places. Menus become souvenirs of memorable evenings. Foodies have clamored for celebrity chefs to autograph menus. Presumably, the printing cost gets factored into the prices. I’ve spent hours reading menus at the Chicago History Museum, tracking the evolution of different cuisines in the 19th and 20th centuries.
People who are less tech savvy or who don’t want to use their phones at dinner should be able to ask for a printed menu or request that the server run down the specials. There are other ways that restaurants can provide memorabilia, too.
After Galit won its Michelin star this spring, it gave thank you cards from its staff to some of its customers. I was touched to receive mine. I’d be perfectly okay if Galit wanted to switch to QR codes, although I know that would spark some debate, especially given its new found status.
Do you have strong feelings about QR codes? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be happy to publish a follow up with your thoughts.
Cooking With Dad
Happy Father’s Day to the dads among our readers, and to the dads of our readers who are still around. My dad died when I was in my early teens, so my memories of him are limited.
But, like many dads, he liked to grill, and he went beyond that. When sweet corn season arrives, he liked to make corn pancakes, I wrote about them for The Takeout a while ago, and I continue to make his recipe.
Modern dads play a much more active role in the kitchen, including my brother Frank. That’s him above in our dad’s barbecue apron.
We often text each other photos of the dishes we have cooked or eaten out. I’m pleased that my nephews Benjamin and Parker are avid cooks and bakers. Parker kept Maxine and I supplied with cookies during the pandemic, and both bake pies. Lately, Benjamin has been brewing craft beer.
Enjoy your day, dads, honor your dads, and enjoy your memories of your dads if they are gone.
What I’m Writing
I had a very busy week on the writing front, with these stories published by The Takeout.
I looked at 10 things I learned about food during my first month in New Orleans. I focused on locally owned businesses, some venerable, some of them brand new. The collection included Piccolo Gelato, which made the 70% Chocolate and Dulce de Leche gelato that I am enjoying this weekend.
I expanded on my newsletter story last week about Liz Williams last week by exploring her advice for capturing family recipes.
Here are my tips to size up gourmet markets, and tell whether your money will be well spent.
Our friend Chef Jason Goodenough shared his recipe for crawfish and grits. With crawfish now becoming widely available beyond the Gulf Coast, definitely give this a try.
Meanwhile, I was a guest on the Lions, Towers and Shields podcast, where we analyzed Gilda, the classic film noir starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford. We had a hilarious time - and there is a Somebody Feeds Phil reference.
Keeping Up With CulinaryWoman
You can reach me at CulinaryWoman at gmail.com. I’m happy to hear from people who bought Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman’s Built A Corner Deli Into A Global Food Community. Let me know if you’d like an autographed book plate.
I often hear from publicists, and just a reminder: I do not use alcohol. You can omit me from those pitch lists. I also do not live in Washington, DC, although I do write for the Washington Post, so I’ll be unable to attend your Washington events. But I am happy to be invited to events here in New Orleans.
For my New Orleans adventures, follow @micki_in_nola on Instagram. My other Instagram account is @michelinemaynard, where I share my articles and interesting posts from friends, authors and interesting IG users.
Next week marks the second anniversary of CulinaryWoman and I’ll be sharing some new features. Please invite your friends and colleagues to subscribe: all are welcome!
Stay healthy, and see you next Sunday.