I have heard many rumors, read news articles and press releases about major deals being made in the digital menu board industry. I also set up my Google Alerts to “Digital Menu Boards,” so I receive all the Web news on the subject. It seems like every day I read about some company switching to digital menu boards, and they talk about why they selected their supplier. So, since I predicted many large chains would be switching to digital menu boards soon, and I want to prove myself right, I have been doing a lot of research on the subject.
I have many friends in the industry and when I discuss these events with them I find the facts to be a lot less “exciting” than what I read. We all know how these stories get started. As an example, I have read articles where someone states they have been selected as the digital menu board supplier for a major chain and they lead you to believe they are doing a major rollout. When I do the research I learn they received an order from a franchisee in that chain for a few of their sites to test. Although I consider this to be good news, I have found little evidence that my prediction has come true.
Most of the people I know in the industry stated their digital menu board business dropped during the downturn in the economy but has recently picked up. However, almost all of the business has been from small chains or single-unit operators.
Also, many of the new startup chains are using digital menu boards, which makes a lot of sense. They don’t have the huge investment in their current menu board programs they would need to replace. It makes sense to them to start out with digital boards rather than switching later.
On the bad news side, one of the startup chains started out with digital menu boards and stopped using them. I have not yet learned why. Some of the large chains are using more digital menu boards in Europe and Asia than they are here, but when people read about it they think it includes the United States.
It’s much more difficult to get information directly from the large chains about large-scale commitments they have made because they tend to want to keep it quiet. I have heard recent rumors that two or three of the major QSR chains (I can’t mention any names) have made some commitments, but it’s not for system-wide rollouts. Typically it’s only for new corporate sites and a few of the new franchisee-owned sites. I still believe my prediction will come true, but I’m still waiting.