Change Series: The Important and Evolving Role of Digital Menu Boards

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With quick-service guest experiences changing so rapidly, technology plays an increasingly important role. Check out our perspectives on the evolving role of digital signage.

Change is constant, but over the course of the year 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of change in restaurants, especially quick serve and fast casual. The shift away from dine-in to off-premises has brought technology into the limelight as a means to serve guests in various off-premises channels: drive-thru, mobile/order-ahead, curbside, takeout, and even walk-up.

Here’s our look at service and tech trends in digital signage.

Digital signage is more versatile and integrated into a broader set of customer experience technologies

While a global pandemic headlined much of 2020, a lesser-known story has been the fact that the pandemic has actually brought about new opportunities and revenue channels for well-known brands—powered by digital menu boards. Consider, for example, Golden Corral,  traditionally a sit-down buffet concept that is now relying on digital menu boards to launch drive-thru and a walk-up order counter to serve its popular buffet staples to hungry guests through a range of off-premises channels. 

Operators are taking advantage of dynamic content capabilities powered by multiple data points such as weather, ‘popular’ or ‘trending now’ items, or even the customer’s own order, to display and suggestively upsell, focusing on the most appealing and profitable menu items. Different from rules-based suggestive selling, newer dynamic content engines rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and a multitude of data points.

These technologies also enable operators to rapidly and easily test special offers, combos, add-ons, and pricing variations. For example, the operator may find that sales of cookies are fairly steady across most dayparts but price elasticity is better during and after dinner. So they set their digital display system to automatically increase the cookie price in the evenings to boost the day’s profits. Alternatively, they could offer a late night cookie special to help them sell out before close of business, and easily ‘86’ them off the menu once they’re gone.

Why operators that have not made the switch to digital should consider doing so

Increasingly, customers expect digital-first experiences (including signage). Brands want to give their customers the best possible experience so they come back again and again. Digital displays are one way to leverage technology to guide guests through the ordering experience. The bright, engaging, colorful displays capture more guest attention, for longer, studies show. Industry studies also show that digital signage influences guest choices.

Digital displays are easier to manage and keep accurate. Daypart changes occur automatically. And operators can control menu and pricing updates for any number of boards (or all of them) centrally. Finally, the brand can decide how much control to give franchisees.

Digital signage can lead to profitability

Simply put, digital signage does a better job engaging and influencing customers. Besides capturing more guest attention for longer, menu boards are also shown to increase average check size—we’ve seen up to 15% more per order!

Digital gives restaurants the opportunity to upsell/cross-sell in the context of a customer order. Signage automatically offers the upsell, whether the order taker does or not. This can happen wherever you use DMBs to serve guests, indoors or out. Outdoor digital signage sometimes has the added capability to turn into a ‘billboard’ during slow periods. The screens can work together to become a giant sign displaying dynamic content, which has been shown to increase transaction counts at restaurants that use this capability.

Digital Menu Boards help a brand establish customer loyalty

DMBs give brands a compelling way to personalize the guest experience.  For example, a digital menu board could greet a guest by name or display a guest’s recent orders when it detects a customer who has downloaded the brand’s loyalty app.

Some DMBs can use integrated cameras to ‘read’ customer demographics. If the menu board detects children in line, for example, a screen in the panel could display menu items that would appeal to kids.

Suggestive selling works better on digital signage

As mentioned earlier, operators are taking advantage of dynamic content capabilities powered by multiple data points such as weather and ‘popular’ or ‘trending now’ items to display and suggestively sell the most appealing and profitable menu items. Different from rules-based suggestive selling, newer dynamic content engines rely on artificial intelligence (AI), advanced machine learning, and a multitude of data points, including very dynamic or real-time data points.

These technologies also enable operators to rapidly and easily test special offers, combos, add-ons, and pricing variations. Increasingly, restaurant operators are relying on AI-driven tech to better understand and act more quickly on what works and what doesn’t.

And, as mentioned earlier, bright, engaging content including movement/video attracts attention and helps boost sales.

Digital signage will continue to evolve and become a more integral part of a brand’s sales engine

Digital menu boards have become part of a broader, integrated technology ecosystem. This ecosystem helps operators solve evolving digital challenges including

  • Automating digital personalization and suggestive selling
  • Analyzing guest experience 
  • Providing actionable insights toward food service transformation.

Things like loyalty programs and apps, drive-thru timers that gamify drive-thru service times, and voice ordering software that can listen to orders and turn speech into machine-readable text  that gets injected into the POS are becoming part of this overall customer experience ecosystem. Voice ordering could be used to power various applications including entering the order as the guest speaks it. It could display on the order confirmation screen what it ‘heard,’ and even help correct an order taker’s error, helping speed up order taking and minimize voids. The goal of the combined technologies is to promote higher average ticket size, improve accuracy, and speed up service: the ‘golden trifecta’ of quick serve and fast casual brands. 

Besides detecting opt-in loyalty app users via beacon technology and pushing out a personalized coupon, offer, and/or message, a DMB could display an opt-in guest’s previous order or past order history when the embedded DMB camera detects an opt-in customer license plate or loyalty program QR code displayed somewhere on their car.

In Closing

It appears that we could be in pandemic response mode for some time. As we consider the possibility of long-term disruption, operators should do everything possible to attract and retain guests, and provide the best possible experience at every step in the guest journey.

DMBs are driving up average check size, with the promise of growth as the marketing and recommendations technologies behind digital signage continue to improve. Operators should not wait to take the first steps. They should start now, in order to start reaping the rewards, and prepare for whatever the future holds.