Just last week, McDonald's announced $300 million-dollar investment to upgrade their interactive electronic menus. It's a huge trend in the industry, but it can be expensive for independent restaurants to keep up with changing technology.
A new app hopes to level the playing field. PinOn was created at a startup incubator at UMass-Boston by a group of recent graduates from area colleges.
Each table at Wow Barbecue in Providence has a sticker with a QR code. It allows a patron to quickly download a live interactive menu thru PinOn's app.
"It was pretty easy," said Erin Vick. "I just had to open my camera and scan the code."
A patron then has access to high-resolution pictures of the menu items, as well as videos showing how the food is prepared. It also includes possible allergens and allows the customer to indicate their preference for spiciness.
"In today's Instagram culture, everyone wants visuals," explained Peter Wolfinger, of PinOn. "We took that concept and applied it to the menu. We want to provide full images, full video of every single dish so someone sort of has the idea of what they are getting before they get it."
Sharon Chao used the app at Wow Barbecue and liked it. "This is a cool app, to really get a feeling of what the dishes are, so you can order the dish you like."
Chris Muller, a professor of hospitality at Boston University, said all restaurants need to be thinking visually these days. "I think it's crucial and I think that's been the biggest change in my almost 50 years of being in the restaurant business. How we've had to change to adapt to social media, the digital world, changing menus, and changing the way we communicate our dishes."
The developers of the PinOn app believe they can help smaller eateries keep up with all this change in the industry. Wolfinger explained, "What we found is that there are literally thousands of restaurants in Boston that are independently owned, that might not have the infrastructure to make their own app, so we are marketing to them and want to provide a solution for them."
This solution might create new problems for patrons like Tait Sae-eung. "I've got to say, I am very impressed by the pictures... it makes me want more things, honestly."
Customers who use the PinOn app often get free items like soda, or access to specials that aren't on the paper menu.
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