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A QR Code Menu is a Must - Here's How to Make Yours for Free

Why QR Codes are Important For Your Business

Digital Contactless Menus are the New Standard

The pandemic has led to radical changes in the way customers interact with restaurants and businesses. Many of these changes have turned the industry on its head, leaving businesses struggling to adapt and keep up. Amidst these changes, there has been a rapid digital transformation in the restaurant industry. Modern websites, online ordering, and digital menus have become necessities to enable increased delivery services and safe dining practices. Digital menus, previously relegated to quick service restaurants, are now used across the restaurant industry - even in fine dining. Restaurants and customers alike have embraced QR codes as the best way to make these digital menus accessible.

The Adoption of QR Codes are Good for Business Owners

A Technological Trend That Won't Cost You

Perhaps one reason for the quick adoption of QR code menus is the low cost of implementation and comparatively high pay off. Other modern digitization trends like the need for a modern website or an online ordering system can be incredibly expensive and time consuming to implement, especially for small business owners. Thankfully, creating a digital menu accessible by QR code for your restaurant menu is easy, inexpensive (or free if you follow our guide below), and may even bring a few notable advantages when compared to traditional paper menus.

Increase Customer and Employee Safety While Also Saving Money

From a health and safety perspective, the benefits of digital QR code menus are clear. Traditional menus pass hands countless times and can be difficult to clean. QR code accessible digital menus can be accessed quickly, easily, and touch-free from a customer’s own device. Plus, digital menus can allow for easy menu changes, without expensive printing costs.

QR codes in use at restaurants

So How Exactly Does a QR Code Work?

A Way to Share a Website URL Beyond the Computer Screen

For those less familiar with the technology, a QR code (short for quick response code) is a matrix style of barcode that contains information, like a website URL. In other words, a QR code is a hyperlink that you can scan using your phone's camera. A customer scanning the QR code can quickly navigate to the encoded web address by scanning the QR code. More advanced QR code generating services also allow you to use a QR code to automatically trigger followup emails, share contact information, help customers log onto your wifi and more.

Easy and Accessible Via Every Smartphone

Apple and Android have long embraced the technology by embedding QR code reading technology into their camera apps. Simply pointing the smartphone camera at a QR code can summon a prompt to navigate to the linked information, website, or file.

Using an iPhone to scan a digital QR code menu at a cafe

Here’s How to Create a QR Code for Your Restaurant:

Picking the Best Tool for the Job

Creating a QR code is simple and easy. It's a built in function on Google Chrome - right clicking any webpage allows you to generate a basic QR Code. For the best results, however, we recommend using one of the many excellent QR code generator services available online. We've tested the best free and paid options available online and we offer our recommendations below.

Getting the Most From Your QR Codes

If you want to create a link for a website, simply copy your desired target URL and paste it into the generator. Those looking to get more out of QR codes shouldn't stop there. A customized visual on your QR code can help it feel more engaging and on-brand while critically improving customer scan rates. Plus, QR codes can offer valuable functions outside of simple URL linking. This can be especially important for those without websites that need to share online menus via digital files, or those who want to use more advanced QR code functions like automated texts, or scannable WiFi credentials. To access some of these features, many QR code generator services will require that you pay for a premium version of their product. The main selling point of these services is typically centered around dynamic QR Codes. We explain what those are - and how to get the same functionality for free - below.

Our Pick for the Best QR Code Generator - QR Code Monkey

Getting the Most From Your QR Codes

Among the many free QR code generator services we tested, QR Code Monkey's was the best option available. Here are some notable features, available in the free version of their service:

Our Pick for the Best Free QR Code Generator - QR Code Monkey
Our Pick for the Best Free QR Code Generator - QR Code Monkey
  • Custom color options allow you to use your brand's exact hex color. Plus, you can even use a gradient between two colors.

  • You can upload and incorporate your logo into your QR code. Our testing showed Survey Monkey's QR code generator did the best job of incorporating the logo. Some other services offered this feature, but did so poorly. QR Code Monkey's generator seemed to remap the QR code to leave room in the center whereas others often left spaces too small, or simply placed the logo directly over the code - this looked messy and disorganized.

  • Survey Monkey also allows a surprising wealth of customizations to the actual data pattern, allowing you to customize the overall look of your QR Code. A few other services offered more customization options, but we found that those options looked far less polished.

  • Aside from URL's Survey Monkey's generator also supports email, phone, location, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, WiFi, and more.

  • We also liked that QR Code Monkey's free QR code generator was user friendly. Not only was the interface intuitive and modern, the generator tool was straightforward to navigate and use. Nearly every other option teased premium features, only to prompt users with a frustrating paywall.

Our Only Complaint - And the Workaround We've Prepared for You

The only thing we found lacking with this QR code generator was an option to add a call to action frame. These frames can be helpful in guiding customers to engaging with your QR code. To remedy this issue we've created a few assets for you to help add call to actions to the QR codes you make using QR Code Monkey's generator. Download those assets at the end of the article.

So What are Dynamic QR Codes?

Dynamic QR Codes vs Static QR Codes

There are two different types of QR codes, dynamic and static. To a customer, both codes will look and function the same. For a business owner, on the other hand, the differences will be much more important.

Static QR Codes Strengths

Static QR codes are the are straightforward and reliable. With this standard form of a QR code, the destination URL is directly encoded. This means the QR code always works. Unlike dynamic codes static codes are completely independent from any service and will never expire. You can also use static codes to link directly to files. To do so, however, you'll typically have your own website or a third party service that can host your file. Be sure to read to the end of the article where we outline how you can do this for free using Google Drive.

Features and Strengths of Dynamic Codes

Instead of pointing directly to your desired website URL, a dynamic QR code links to a short URL. This short URL acts as an intermediary site, hosted by the QR code generator service you used to generate the dynamic QR code. The primary benefit of a dynamic code is that you can freely control the destination to which that short URL redirects. If, for example, you print QR code menus, but find you need to update your menu, you can simply update the linked URL or file associated with your QR code, rather than reprinting new QR codes. Dynamic QR code services also typically feature scan tracking features which can help provide valuable insights into your QR code applications regarding scan location.

Drawbacks of Dynamic QR Codes

Dynamic QR codes aren’t without drawbacks either. Reliance on an intermediary URL means that if, for any reason, the managing service is down or out of service for any reason, the QR code will be rendered useless. Additionally, QR code generating services will almost always charge a premium for access to dynamic QR code management features, starting at $60/year for their most basic packages and upwards of $150/year to $450/year for more advanced or professional packages respectively.

Are the Benefits Worth it?

No. That's not to say the premium features aren't important, or that there aren't businesses who would benefit from a "professional" tier package. For most small businesses, however, it's likely not worth the premium.

Designing Your QR Code for the Best Results

Our Tips for Creating a Free Static QR Code That's Better Than a Dynamic Code

  1. Customize your QR Code, but don't go overboard. While a code that has been customized may help improve engagement, it's important not to compromise the recognizability and the readability of your QR code. We recommend keeping the overall shape square and the data encoding pattern bold - stay away from very fine dot configurations. In terms of colors, stick to a dark for the QR code matrix and keep the background white. A high contrast ratio will allow for quicker and more reliable scanning.

  2. Keep your URL simple. The longer your URL, the more complicated your resulting QR code will be. A simpler QR code can be more easily and reliably scanned - particularly when printed in smaller applications or situations where a part of the QR code may be obscured.

  3. Turn your free QR ode se a third party URL shortener & link tracker. By using a link third party shortening service like Bitly to create your URL, you'll get important tracking features similar to those offered by dynamic QR codes as well as the benefit of a simpler, more easily scanned QR matrix thanks to the shorter URL.

  4. Get a free QR code generator for pdf and image files like jpg or png by using Google Drive to host your file. If you don't have a website or not sure how to create a dedicated URL for a file, Google Drive can give you a free way make a menu in a pdf or an image file type accessible directly via a QR code.

  5. Add a call to action. A prominent call to action can help ensure customers engage with your QR code. Adding a call to action in the frame or in the center of the QR code can help take the guesswork out of your QR code menu design. Our top pick for QR code generators doesn't have this feature built in, but we've designed a few easy to use assets below that you can use with the generator to optimize your QR codes.

Download a Call To Action Pair With Your QR Code

CTA in the Logo Area:

(to use, upload this image in lieu of a logo while generating your QR code)

CTA Frame Style 1 (Top):

(to use, overlay your exported QR code on the frame in the designated gray area)

CTA Frame Style 2 (Bottom):

(to use, overlay your exported QR code on the frame in the designated gray area)

QR Codes Have More to Offer

Explore the other powerful functions of QR codes

QR codes have powerful integrations with Android and OS. You can allow customers to easily connect via emails, texts, addresses, contact info, and more. Plus, you can collect customer feedback, WiFi login credentials, and encourage social linking. These can be powerful tools to increase customer engagement, facilitate feedback, all while adding convenience to customer experience.


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