Should you switch to fully digital or combined digital and printed menu boards?

 | by Scott Sharon
Should you switch to fully digital or combination digital and printed menu boards?

I’ve been contemplating expressing my view on this subject for a long time and now have decided it’s time. What prompted me to do this now is that I’m currently working with a customer that asked me to quote a digital drive-thru menu board. They gave me a design to quote that was done by a competitor. The design was one 46-inch digital display with smaller, old-style static panels attached to each side. The static panels had all the menu items printed on them, and the center digital panel was used as a promotional panel only.

I don’t consider that a digital menu board. However, since they stated that was what they wanted, I quoted two 46-inch displays to give them room for their menu and some promotional content. The customer told me my price was higher than what they had received from the company that did the design. I told them it was because the design they quoted was not a digital board and what I quoted was.

I told my customer I didn’t believe the static menu board with a promotional panel was best for them, but I would quote it if that’s what they truly wanted. The following are my reasons for not recommending such a design:

  1. Switching from static menu boards to new digital menu boards is a big step for restaurant operators. Digital menu boards have more components, are more costly and seem more complicated in the beginning than static, printed menu boards, but they add many huge advantages. If used properly, their ROI is much greater than old-style boards.
  2. A major advantage of digital over print is you eliminate the cost and difficulty of printing the content and getting it on the boards. It’s much easier, quicker, more effective and less costly to do it digitally when all costs are considered. If you switch to a combination board with both digital and printed content you have just added another graphics system and not eliminated the old. You’ve also added at least one more supplier and the need for another area of expertise.
  3. Most experts will agree that digital will eventually replace most of the static menu boards. So why delay the process? There’s a huge amount of helpful technology that continues to be developed that will only work with digital menu boards. Most people that propose the combination boards think it’s easier to make the switch gradually. If we had used that kind of thinking when the automobile replaced the horse and buggy, we’d still have horses hooked to our automobiles.
  4. When we design a digital menu board system, one of the considerations needs to be our customer’s plans for the future. We need to consider what works best now and is easy to make the changes or additions they’ll need in the future. The combination board does not take this into consideration.
  5. Every combination board I’ve seen installed or proposed was done by a former static menu board producer or influenced by someone from that industry. I think their desire to hold onto what has kept them in business for decades influences their design. I have to admit I spent many years in that industry but made the switch to digital several years ago because I believed it would be replaced by digital. We still need the actual menu board expertise from that industry, but it’s time to switch the technology.

What I ended up doing for the customer I mentioned at the beginning of this blog was to show them how they could use an order-confirmation system with promotional panels to accomplish the same thing they wanted to do with the new “so-called” digital menu boards at half the cost of what my competitor proposed. They stated they needed to replace their current order-confirmation system anyway.


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