Four reasons digital screens are more than menu boards
Digital signage is of growing importance to restaurants, for reasons that reach far beyond the ability to display menu items. Engaging digital signage can be a key differentiator in the customer experience by educating guests about menu items, driving craving, reducing perceived wait times, and more.
Why is digital signage important for restaurants? Panelists at the recent Fast Casual Executive Summit cited four reasons during the "Going Beyond Digital Menu Boards" discussion:
Platforms are converging to create a much more integrated experience, not just for the customer, but across systems.
Some digital signage platforms have the ability to connect with POS and other systems, said Paul Flanigan, executive director of the Digital Screenmedia Association.
For instance, when inventory runs low, items can automatically be pulled from digital menu boards, alleviating customer frustration and disappointment.
As more and more technology platforms move into the cloud, restaurants can take advantage of opportunities to integrate systems and reduce disconnects and disruptions.
Good content engages and informs customers. Cloud-based digital signage management platforms make it easier than ever to customize content based on customer needs and context, and test performance.
The ability to quickly update and highlight local produce picks for the day and push it to all screens was one of the biggest drivers in choosing to deploy digital signage, said Lucas Clarke, director of marketing for MAD Greens, a Colorado-based salad concept which uses locally-sourced ingredients grown on its nearby farm.
Digital displays also give restaurant marketers the power to hone in on effective messages, making sure they are the right fit for the right audience by testing responses, according to Clarke.
MAD Greens uses its digital signage to run simple A/B tests for content messaging, according to Clarke. He will post one message on a menu board in one location, and a different message in another location. Over time, he can evaluate response to each message and hone in on the more effective of the two.
Restaurants can also customize content based on location. If something sells to a particular demographic, operators can quickly customize content just for that menu board in that community in a way that is faster and less expensive than traditional print, said Flanigan.
With costs for dropping, it may actually be more cost effective for operators to choose digital screens over traditional display products.
Over the past two to four years, the ability to buy and install digital menu boards has dropped dramatically, as has installation time, said Flanigan.
"I'm not joking when I say this – if you asked me to I could go into your restaurant at 8:30 in the morning and I'd have you a network by 5 o'clock that afternoon, and it would probably cost a maximum of 1000 bucks," said Flanigan. "I know where you get the software, I know where you can get the templates and I can get it all done quickly. The ability to get speed to market is just getting faster and faster."
The proliferation of templates has driven the cost and speed of developing content down, too, said Flanigan. Graphics and effects that might have taken a significant amount of time, skill and money to develop are now widely available at a reasonable price in easily editable formats.
Even with implementation costs trending downward, some operators may be reluctant to make the jump to digital screens.
MAD Greens' Clarke looked at what he was spending on print materials, especially the costs of menu changes over the course of a year or more, and quickly saw that it made sense in his context to go digital.
Opportunity costs should factor into the equation, too. What opportunities might be missed waiting on traditional display projects to be designed, created and installed?
MADGreens, for instance, uses menu boards to promote especially abundant crops. It can't wait for the one week to one month traditional printing might take to put together new menu boards promoting its bumper crop of kale and jalapenos. By the time print pieces are ready and installed, the opportunity has passed. Digital makes it possible for MAD Greens to move quickly and take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Dale Feyereisen, regional/channel sales manager for Phillips, cautioned against letting cost be the driving factor when purchasing screens. Choosing the least expensive screen – often a consumer unit straight off the shelf of a local big box retailer – can end up costing more when the unit does not perform as well.
Screens produced for commercial use are more flexible, more durable and offer important security features, said Feyereisen, and the warranties on consumer screens are typically voided if the screens are used in commercial applications.
Design options are not limited to hanging a large, black box or two on the wall behind the register anymore.
Digital menu boards are now part of architectural and design considerations from the beginning of the process, said Flanigan. Designers aren't trying to figure out how to incorporate them as an add-on; they are considering placement and utility from the inception of the design.
Designers are looking beyond boxy 16:9 screens, said Flanigan, and are now looking for digital screen ribbons, seamless installations and projection.
That opens up a whole new range of design possibilities, both architecturally and on the screens themselves.
It all comes down to the customer
With all the opportunities to move digital screens beyond simply being a digital menu board, operators must remain focused on engaging customers.
"The customer is the most important. The bottom line is, it doesn't matter how much money you spend and it doesn't matter where you put anything if that customer is not engaged, it just doesn't matter," said Flanigan.
Brenda Rick Smith Brenda has more than 20 years of experience as a marketing and public relations professional. She invested most of her career telling the story of entrepreneurial non-profit organizations, particularly through social media. www