By Sharon Sonesh
In recent years, operators of quick-service restaurants (QSRs) of all sizes and types around the world have discovered how changing their menu boards over from printed substrates to liquid crystal displays (LCDs) can boost sales and ensure timely and accurate information for customers. They are also now using digital signage in their staff-facing areas, where the medium is making tangible improvements in training, operational efficiencies and communications.
The digital conversions of static menu boards above or behind QSRs’ service counters, most of which network-connect them to content management systems (CMSs), is happening for several reasons:
1. The prices of displays and related technologies have dropped enough that conversions make sense in budgeting terms, when all the previous costs of printing, shipping and mounting new signs throughout the year are factored in.
2. Many QSRs have introduced breakfast items, so they need to be able to make changes to their menu displays at different times of day.
3. Eye-catching dynamic graphics for special promotions, test products, underperforming items and/or higher-margin offerings, automated by the CMS, can help drive desired sales. In the U.K., for example, McDonald’s found the use of digital signage boosted sales by up to 11 per cent.
4. Long-expected rules in Ontario, the U.S. and other markets may soon require QSR chains to include nutritional information, such as calorie counts, on their menus. With its dynamic nature, digital signage allows QSR operators to test presentation strategies for optimizing menus with the required information.
While getting menu items and prices on-screen is relatively easy, challenges come with larger-scale digital signage rollouts, since what sells in one city may be very different from what’s popular in another. A sophisticated software platform is needed to tie into ordering systems and databases and to change promotions based on QSR locations’ specific performance metrics, inventory levels and customer demographics.
Some QSRs’ menus conversions have been so subtle, few customers even notice printed boards have been replaced with screens, since the displayed static content is the same as before. Other projects have embraced the opportunities of the medium, running full-motion content within feature zones or occasionally taking over the entire menu array, which can be a powerful way to command customers’ attention.
Many QSRs are using menu boards to promote community and charity programs. Some even display curated social media content posted by happy customers.
Tim Hortons, for example, has gone beyond its digital menus to dedicate dining-area screens to TimsTV, a channel for news, entertainment and customer-focused promotions of the chain’s brand values, community activities, mobile apps, etc.