Restaurant digital signage is heating up

 | by Scott Sharon
Restaurant digital signage is heating up

Test data that proves the value of digital menu boards has been available for several years. However, you have to take advantage of the many features of the digital menu boards in order to obtain their full value.

I say that because, for various reasons, restaurant chains have been very slow to take advantage of many of the primary features of digital menu boards.

Even some of the major chains that have rolled out indoor digital menu boards continue to use them much the same as they did their old-style boards. They have not used the additional features to their full extent. This can be very frustrating to me because I’ve been in the digital menu board business for so long assisting in the development of these features.

On the other extreme, I’ve seen many of these features used as gimmicks just to show the new technology and overused to their overall detriment. An example of this is when I see a digital menu board going into a full-takeover mode (a random message covering all the screens) when customers are trying to place an order. Other examples are too much video or movement in the wrong places that disturb the flow and purpose of the menu board.

On the positive side, I’m starting to see some restaurant chains use digital menu board features we did not think of when we developed them. An exciting new trend that has emerged very quickly with the use of digital menu boards and digital signage is what we categorize as analytics. Digital menu boards and digital signage are great communication tools that can be used to manage restaurants much more effectively. Analytics is a great example of that.  Collecting and analyzing information from the menu board system about the purchasing habits and preferences of your customers or identifying trends allow restaurant owners and operators to fine-tune their operations and manage their restaurants much more effectively.

Another exciting new technology that’s growing very quickly is new technology products and applications that are being used to make digital menu boards and digital signage more intelligent. Since they are important communication tools, it just makes sense to develop their intelligence to keep up with the communication tool that has dramatically changed the world – the cell phone. Top management of one of the major restaurant chains recently made a statement that they have lost touch with the last two generations and that is a major reason for a drop in their business. The cell phone has been the primary communication tool of the last two generations and has quickly become the same for all other generations. Today digital menu boards and signs are now intelligent enough to communicate with intelligent cellphones or smartphones.

A technology that has aided in the digital menu board and digital sign intelligence is the development and use of beacons. Beacons placed in or near digital menu boards or signs can alert the menu board and management when a loyalty member (frequent shopper) is in the restaurant or near the board. Beacons allow the menu board to recognize and communicate with the customer through their cellphone.

Recently there has been a major improvement in the effectiveness of beacons and at the same time a major cost reduction. The new beacons will work in any appliance with speakers. An application must be downloaded on the customer’s cell phone in order for the boards to communicate with it. There are also generic applications developed that will do the same so customers don’t have to install applications for every restaurant or retail chain they visit.

It does not take a vivid imagination to see the value of intelligent digital menu boards and signs. They can do many helpful things to improve the business operations and the customer experience. Examples are to show the last order and/or preferences of the customer when they approach the board. Others are to pass on coupons and specials, aid in credit card payments, plus many other useful options.

I was recently told by a member of management of a company that manages multiple concession stands in sports arenas they want their customers to have the capability to place orders on their cellphones from their seats and go to the concession stand nearest them to pick up their order. Beacons will allow us to do that.

Another major technology developed several years ago that can make digital menu boards much more intelligent is the use of small cameras in the boards with facial-recognition software. That system in digital menu boards and signs would allow the board to collect information about customers viewing the board such as gender, age, and ethnicity. The information could be analyzed and become very valuable to the restaurant operators. It can also be very valuable in managing the content being played to approaching customers. However, this technology has not yet been adopted in a major way in digital menu boards and other digital signage.

Although I have only mentioned a few, I see many new technologies being developed at an ever quickening pace that will make digital menu boards and signs more intelligent and useful. However, we have to test and prove each of them before they are released.

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