Augmented Reality

Using Web Augmented Reality to Add Visual Interactions to Contactless Restaurant Menus in Response to COVID-19

Businesses that are slow to adapt to the digital world risk getting left behind. This research project explores how restaurants can adopt emerging technologies such as web augmented reality (WebAR) to improve the customer’s ordering experience during the reopening phases of the economy from COVID-19 and beyond. Many restaurants that were allowed to open reduced their menus and adopted single-use paper menus or asked that customers scan a QR code to view their web menu. Standard menus are often engineered to influence customer purchases through clever content placement, visuals and other psychological tactics that drive up a restaurant’s profitability. This project demonstrates how WebAR can be used in three different ways to enhance contactless menus to reestablish trust and build purchase confidence for customers. Prototypes will include using a coaster to augment a drink menu, enhancing web menus with 3D food, and a table-display menu with brand engagement. The ultimate goal is to illustrate how WebAR reduces the barriers for restaurants to create augmented experiences by integrating with their existing digital presence and how accessible it is for customers to interact with AR without downloading apps.
About the Author
Eileen Xue

Eileen is a self-proclaimed learnaholic and tech enthusiast. She likes to dabble in different aspects of multimedia, digital marketing, and recently in emerging technologies. She received her Bachelor of Science at UofT before switching gears and pursuing a multimedia diploma and subsequently working as a web developer in Ottawa. It was at that role that she got involved with web accessibility and became an advocate in ensuring that web access is inclusive of as many people as possible. As technology continues to advance, she wants to design and develop digital products that incorporate inclusive design and digital accessibility principles that expands beyond the web.

About the Project
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This project presents three different ways that restaurants can use aspects of augmented reality to enhance their menu with 3D realistic food and other brand loyalty opportunities. Through this process I also wanted to address two research questions:

  • Can we use augmented reality to influence purchase decisions in restaurants? 
  • Can we use observations from technological adoption at restaurants to predict user behaviour and trends in the hospitality industry post-COVID?

Experience 1: Coaster Menu with Augmented Drinks

User flow: When customers are seated, they’re presented with a store-branded coaster printed with a QR code that serves as a contactless menu in addition to the regular function of the coaster. The users check out the online menu and then prompted to try out the interactive AR experience, which works seamlessly on the same website. They’re prompted to scan the original coaster again, which acts as an image target to place the 3D cocktails.

Adobe XD Prototype (Click image to test out the UX flow)

I chose to explore a drink menu with augmented cocktails because alcoholic drinks usually have the highest profit margins for restaurants. With the WebAR experience, users can engage and get up close with specialty drinks, which improve the likelihood that they'll make a purchase or increase their order value due to the enticing nature of food aesthetics for the eyes of social media.

Final Concept for the Drink Menu

Experience 2: Menu enhanced with 3D Food

What's better than 2D pictures of food in menus? Realistic 3D models of food!

Inital Prototype using Fuwa Fuwa Pancakes
Final Concept for the Bakery Menu

Experience 3: Interactive Burger Promotion

Restaurants can promote new products or provide other incentives through augmented experiences. In version one of this burger promotion example, customers can interact with the 3D model to learn more about the ingredients used to create this "Ultimate Canadian Burger". In version two, potential customers can view the video ad through WebAR and this can be activated through large format display ads such as bus shelters, flyers, table top signs, etc; In both versions, the purpose is that customers will develop brand awareness and get rewarded for it with a coupon for a free burger.

Example of Table Signs
Final Concept of Interactive Burger Promo

Originally I approach my supervisor with the idea of utilizing projection mapping for my research project after being inspired by large scale exhibitions and watching videos of the “Le Petit Chef” project where they use 3D mapping for an immersive culinary experience. Our conversations led me to pivot to looking at using augmented reality to enhance restaurant experiences as this technology was commonly used in education, retail and entertainment, but less so in the hospitality industry. Restaurants are constantly in competition with each other and sometimes the quality of food just isn’t enough to keep customers consistently coming back as they chase the next new trend and line ups. When COVID-19 forced the world into lockdowns and quarantines, one of the hardest-hit industries was in hospitality. It was difficult for me to do collaborations or perform qualitative research inside restaurants as they were all closed for dine-in purposes. I pivoted my ideas numerous times trying to salvage pre-existing research and commitment to introducing web augmented reality in restaurant settings. Finally, as restaurants began to open up their patios, I noticed the resurgence of QR codes as a way to access online menus to minimize the use of disposable menus or usage of the standard menus. At this point, I was looking into using web augmented reality to provide value for customers while increasing sales and repeat customers for restaurants. The usage of QR codes makes it easy for customers to also engage with WebAR content as the experience is similar where you just point your camera at an image target. I decided to design and create three different augmented menu experiences to explore the possibilities of what may be the new normal for the next little while. Also, I wanted to use this research to predict future trends in preparation for when AR becomes more mainstream which will happen when mixed reality headsets are suitable for mass-market adoption.