After “Value Meals” appeared many QSR chains went through a period of time when they started increasing the number of items they offered and changed them more frequently, starting in about the 1990’s. The increase in the number of items and the addition of food photography began to make the lack of space on the boards a severe problem. The photograph above will give you an idea of how severe this problem became.
Our glossary of menu board terms began to grow quickly. In the picture above the initial installation was a simple 3-panel drive-through menu board. Then came the “Topper” on the top, then an “Adder” on the left, then one on the right, then “Extenders” on the bottom left and right, plus graphics on the base. The boards became very busy and difficult to read. At that time we also used “Pre Sell” boards and a “Speaker Post” with an order confirmation screen. The problem was more serious outside in the drive-through than inside because the area from where the boards could be read was much smaller. This was great for the menu board industry and our sales but a problem for our customers.
To compound the problem, a few years later our customers started using “Day Parts”. Until then there was just one menu that was served all day long. In the mid-1990’s they started adding breakfast as a second day part. I remember several meetings with some of my friends at Burger King to solve this problem. At that time Javier Rodriquez was an engineer at Burger King and he asked me to go to Puerto Rico to see what they did there to increase space on the indoor boards. They used a system where some of the panels would be slid over others at different times of the day. This was difficult to do with a backlit board but we finally made it work and solved the indoor problem.
We could not do the same on the drive-through. I came up with a design where the outdoor boards were double sided and would be rotated 180 degrees for each of the two day parts. We rolled it out to the entire system in about 2000.
About ten years earlier, in 1990, I developed what I later learned was the first digital menu board to be used in the industry. I was working with Dick Ripp, an Arby’s franchisee in Richmond, VA, to develop a board where he could show Arby’s commercials in his restaurants. We installed them in his twelve sites in the Richmond, VA. area.
At that time flat panel TV’s had not been developed so we used four of the old style tube TV’s for the main menu board and two more over his dessert bar. We filmed all the food shots and copy and played it on old VCR machines, along with some of the commercials.
Dick Ripp was one of the best restaurant operators I have met in the restaurant industry and I learned a lot from him. His sales were almost double the average of all the other Arby’s sites. Three other great operators I worked closely with to develop new product were Arby’s franchisees. They were Tom Lance, Phil Goldman, and Barnie Goldman, the owners of RMI, the Arby’s franchisee in Cincinnati.
This completes my “History of Menu Boards” series for old-style menu boards. I will also do a series on the development of digital menu boards.