“Digital menu board basics” is a white paper in four parts. Read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.
Three of the major QSR chains started rolling out digital boards 15-20 years ago but the hardware, software, and content were not yet fully tested and developed, however testing showed their value. The hardware was not reliable and the software was difficult to use, plus everything was more expensive than it is today. Although they clearly saw the benefits of digital menu boards they started before the industry was ready. This early start resulted in some people losing their jobs and the major supplier going bankrupt. I was involved in the testing at the time as a consultant and I advised the supplier the product was not ready for a rollout.
All those problems were resolved but the QSR industry was slow to switch to digital because of that failure. Tim Horton’s was the first major QSR chain I am aware of to roll out digital menu boards to their entire system in North America that were successful. I was involved in that rollout through a software company called EK3. Although they have had some problems with the outdoor digital menu boards I am told they are very happy with the results of their system.
Most of the major chains have been testing digital boards for years and several have made the switch. They were further ahead in Europe and Asia mostly due to the early problem mentioned above. Also, they have been waiting for improvements to be made to the outdoor drive-thru boards. The drive-thru was not as large a part of the Europe and Asia business. These improvements have now been made and most of the chains have either made or are considering making the switch.
Selling ads to vendors and third parties
Some of your major suppliers will pay for space on your digital menu boards. Also, third-party ads can be sold on digital boards in your restaurants. Some companies have signed deals where third-party ads will pay the total cost of the digital boards.
There are several companies that install digital displays in your sites at no cost to you but they retain ownership and sell you part of the space. They make money on the ads that run on the screens. This is becoming less popular as the chains realize space on the screens is too valuable for anything but their own products and information.
Several companies are still recommending or selling systems with entertainment or current event information on digital menu boards to give people a reason to view them, or for just the entertainment value such as in a sports bar. However, I do not recommend this for menu boards.
Menu board placement
Digital menu boards and displays can be used effectively in several zones in your restaurants and in the drive-thru. The purpose for each board will determine where it is placed.
The first zone where you may consider digital boards is where you first enter the drive-thru lane or walk into the restaurant. This is where you want to make your guests feel welcome and set the mood. Since most people won’t read much when they first enter this zone it would not justify the expense of a digital board. Some simple welcome message and a design that reinforces the brand would be enough. This could also be included on a directional sign.
The next zone is after the customer has entered the restaurant or drive-thru and starts to think about what they will order. This is a good place for a digital preview board. It can influence the order, introduce a new product, upsell or influence a purchase on a return trip. It is also a good place to introduce discounts or coupons.
The next and most important zone is where the order is placed. This is where the main menu board is placed and the final decisions have to be made. These boards must be well organized so they can be quickly read and easily understood. The products, prices and necessary information should be displayed in a clear and appetizing manner. Only information used to influence and make the final decision should be placed on these boards. Order confirmation units have been very popular in the drive-thru but new technologies are making them less needed so they are on the decline. Some are being converted to digital merchandising screens.
After the customer has placed the order and is either driving up to a pay window or waiting to pay the attendant behind the counter is a good time to introduce credit card information (maybe with a small screen on the back of the cash register), frequent customer programs, brand information or new services.
After the order has been placed and customers are waiting for their food is a key time when the perceived wait time needs to be influenced, especially in the drive-thru. If you have a separate order pick-up area inside you can also include entertainment, current event and neighborhood information.
Since outdoor digital boards are much more expensive than indoor it’s difficult to justify using them anywhere in the drive-thru other than as preview boards or main menu boards. However, traditional signage and graphics can be used.
Inside there are other areas where digital boards may be justified other than as preview and main menu boards. They would be very effective in drink areas, dessert bars or in the dining area. This is where you can influence additional or secondary purchases such as a dessert, side order, take home order, extra drink or non-food items. this is also a good place to put brand information, entertainment, and local and current information.
The last zone is where the customer leaves the restaurant. Although digital boards may not be justified there should be some type of message thanking them for visiting and encouraging them to return soon.
When you develop your digital menu board plan keep new technologies in mind. New technologies that allow your customers to interact with your displays have been developed and are increasing quickly. These technologies are more common in other parts of the world but are showing up in the US also. We are shifting away from “what happened” to “what is happening.”