According to data found on Finances Online, it’s estimated that there are over 1 million restaurants in the United States alone. What’s more, the industry generated almost 900 billion USD in sales last year (source: Statista). With such a large industry, it’s no surprise that there’s always room for innovation and new ideas. 

One such idea is using augmented reality (AR) in restaurants. Its potential applications range from enhancing the customer experience to increasing operational efficiency. This article will discuss how augmented reality can help restaurants thrive in today’s competitive landscape.

Better customer experience

Group of friend's using a smartphone at a restaurant

Augmented reality menu

There are a few ways you can incorporate AR into a restaurant business. The first thing that may come to mind is an augmented reality menu. The idea behind it is to show realistic 3D representations of food instead of 2D pictures.

An augmented reality menu can be displayed on a table using a projector or virtually through a smartphone. The former may look a bit more spectacular, but the latter is easier to carry out. After all, almost everybody has a smartphone nowadays. So looks focus on that for now.

So how do these augmented reality menus work anyway? Well, you can use two approaches: create a web-based AR experience or develop an application with AR features. The first can be accessed by scanning a QR code without downloading an app. So it’s more accessible.

But it does have some technical limitations which are easy to overcome with standard apps. If you’d like to read more about the differences and advantages of both solutions, read our article comparing web-based AR and apps.

If you decide on webAR, you will need a QR code placed somewhere accessible for the guests. Like on the printed version of the menu or a table. Next, you need your customers to point their cameras at it with a QR scanner. If you go for the second option, all you need to do is get your guests to launch the app. 

First and foremost, we want the app – whether web-based or not – to display 3D photorealistic models of food that customers can look at from different angles. This very characteristic of AR makes it more engaging and natural, as users don’t have to rotate the 3D models with navigational buttons. Plus, AR objects are overlaid in the physical environment, creating a fantastic immersion level.

Depending on how you design the experience, it can also enable customization of the offered food or give additional information about it. This could include things like nutritional and allergen data or an interactive presentation of how it’s made.

Benefits of an augmented reality menu

There are several benefits to using augmented reality menus in restaurants. First, it can help increase customer engagement and interest in the food. Second, it can help make more informed decisions and reduce order mistakes. And third, it can provide a more immersive and fun dining experience.

Using AR means showing dishes in a new, better way. Customers can see every detail of the food, its actual size when placed on a table and how it looks from every side. And, as we’ve already mentioned, you can show lots of additional information in a fun and engaging manner.

Interactive product launches

If you already have an application for your restaurant business, why not use ideas similar to AR menus for appealing product launches? Instead of showing 2D photos and videos of your new menu items, why not make the presentation more fun and immersive with restaurant augmented reality?

Another great idea is to use gamification. Creating an interactive AR game can turn something ordinary into an entertaining activity. Additionally, it can help develop a sense of loyalty among customers and encourage them to keep coming back for more.

How could this work practically? For example, you could launch a game where users assemble a new burger from virtual ingredients. You could even give them an AR grill to fry the patty and include a scoreboard for some rivalry. And why not end the experience with a fun quiz? This is a great way to launch a new product and help customers learn more about it before purchasing it.

Automated service

Additionally, you can use restaurant augmented reality to create a virtual waiter experience. This would allow customers to place their orders and have them delivered to their tables without having to interact with a real person. What are the benefits? 

Usually, ordering and payments take a lot of time when you visit a restaurant. But with an app, it’s easier to make the process efficient. You can also add recommendations that help in upselling and making more profit. Finally, your employees spend less time talking to customers and can help with different tasks, increasing efficiency further.

It’s also worth mentioning that people with social anxiety would much appreciate the possibility of talking to a virtual avatar instead an actual human. On the other hand, a human-like avatar gives the interaction a more natural and friendly feel that choosing from a list in an application.

But what if someone wants a real, human waiter? Well, an AR waiter doesn’t mean you can’t have employees who can still take orders and payments. Similarly to having a chatbot that supports consultants in a customer service department, the virtual waiter is made as an addition, not a replacement for actual people. You can also use an augmented reality avatar for just some of the tasks, like guiding guests to a free table.

Restaurant augmented reality for employees

One more way to use restaurant augmented reality is to create AR training and onboarding experiences for the staff. Using the same gamification principles, you can make your employees memorize procedures in a fun and effective way.

You can also use an augmented reality onboarding app to help develop a team spirit in newcomers. This is what Samsung Poland did with their application which we had the chance to create. Besides providing new hires with all the necessary information, their app had an AR game where employees had to work together to build a lighthouse. This helped break the ice and reminded participants of the importance of teamwork.

Virtual reality in restaurants

Two young women using a VR headset at a cafe

This article is aimed at discussing restaurant augmented reality, but it seems appropriate to mention the applications of virtual reality as well. It’s an excellent tool when it comes to training, so let’s focus on that first.

VR restaurant training

One idea is to develop a VR experience that simulates the restaurant environment and allows staff to practice various tasks such as taking orders, preparing food, and serving customers. This can give staff a realistic idea of what to expect when working in the restaurant and help them to learn and master various skills more quickly. 

Marketing ideas

Restaurants can also use virtual reality for marketing themselves to potential customers. How? A posh restaurant could create a virtual tour for potential customers before deciding whether to visit the physical location. To make it accessible to users, this could be a VR experience viewed from a device like Google Cardboard. It all comes down to your imagination!

Or you could model a campaign on what Wendy’s did in the metaverse. The food chain launched a virtual restaurant in Horizon Worlds which will be available to users from the 2nd of April. This Wendyverse experience was created as part of a Buck Biscuit promotion and is the brand’s first big step into the metaverse.

It’s time to wrap it up

Let’s go through the benefits of VR & AR in restaurants one more time:

  • effective and engaging employee training
  • increased customer satisfaction
  • engaging marketing materials
  • automation of some tasks

If you’re looking to develop restaurant augmented reality experiences, drop us a line. You’ll hear back from us within 2 business hours. We’ll gladly answer any questions and discuss your company’s business opportunities. Schedule your free 60-minute consultation today!

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Marketing Specialist

Marketing specialist with four years of experience. Having spent part of his childhood in Ireland, he's fascinated with its culture and language. Loves history, football and any form of writing.