Augmented Reality’s Latest Local Commerce Play: Restaurant Menus

Augmented Reality continues to be an early-adopter technology in terms of brand marketing. Meanwhile, it has the unique ability to demonstrate products in their full 3D glory, which has proven effective in categories from furniture to footwear and cosmetics to cars. We recently examined the latter.

The latest area of AR applicability recently came to light from Denny’s. The chain restaurant has integrated an AR-powered menu that lets diners visualize their Grand Slam breakfast in 3D before ordering it. This works towards a more informed customer, and thus a greater chance of a satisfied one.

In addition to giving diners a better sense of what a given dish looks like, the goal here is to instill craveability. This is all about evoking mouth-watering moments, which brings the opportunity for AR-fueled menus beyond the in-dining experience to getting diners to the restaurant in the first place.

And this is exactly what Denny’s has done. The AR visualizaiton tool is available in its restaurants (more on that in a bit), but can also be activated from anywhere. Visualizing menu items at home, for example, could entice users into the restaurant… or into making DoorDash-style deliveries (Post-Covid friendly).

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SaaS and Sass

Going deeper into Denny’s goals, the new AR function is part of a broader “It’s Dinner Time” program. Aligned with the chain restaurant’s 70th anniversary, it includes the AR menu as well as a $25 million upgrade to modernize its kitchens with new equipment and ordering/expediting logistics.

These include a cloud-based point-of-sale system that not only expedites individual orders to the kitchen but could allow Denny’s to extract insights from aggregate food ordering patterns (think: seasonal trends). Gone are the days of the pencil and pad in the apron pocket of your sassy waitress.

Back to AR, diners can activate it through QR codes on printed menus. Those same QR codes will be distributed in other promotions to achieve the “at-home” interactions noted above. Once scanned, users can swipe through menus and activate their camera to place 3D dishes in their immediate space.

As an additional enticement, special deals are available through the AR menu that can’t be found on the physical menu. The goal there is to give diners wary of AR an economic incentive to try it out. From there, the hope is that they gain comfort and satisfaction levels with the experience to develop new habits.

That could be a realistic sequence, given that seeing your food on a spinning 3D plate is objectively more dimensional and descriptive than any physical menu could achieve. It also works towards the craveability factor mentioned above. This can be boosted with things like surface detail, reflections, and sound.

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Down-Market Migration

Panning back, what’s Denny’s greater goal? Getting more users to try AR feeds into (excuse the pun) broader digitization efforts like the cloud-based POS. Once users have their phones out for AR, it’s a natural handoff to a mobile order. AR menus also boost tech-forward and environmentally-friendly PR.

To be fair, Denny’s isn’t the first company to use AR as a food visualization tool. Other chains such as Panera have done this, as we’ve examined. And AR-focused tech providers like QReal specialize in bringing this capability to restaurants through a 3D modeling technique known as photogrametry.

This is particularly important with food to capture the level of detail to achieve the above goals, such as informed diners and craveability. The more the soup is steaming and the Fajita is sizzling, the greater the craveability. So if diner demand for AR menus grows, the QReals of the world will be well positioned.

Of course, all of the above takes place in the context of a multi-location chain restaurant. The question is if it will migrate down-market to SMBs… as emerging tech adoption cycles tend to go. If the Dennys of the world are able to create enough traction that it becomes a user expectation, SMBs could be next.

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