Health insurance mandates as well as higher taxes and fees have received the most attention with the passage of the new health care reform law by Congress last Sunday. But quick-service restaurants will be more immediately impacted by the new national standard for nutrition labeling on restaurant menus included in the bill. The reform will affect all restaurants with 20 or more locations, regardless of ownership.
The National Restaurant Association supports the new national standard because the new law will help consumers make better choices for themselves and their families. The national standard also will provide a consistent set of regulations, replacing most of the local and state laws that have passed in recent years.
Details of the regulation may remain unclear until the U.S. Food and Drug Admiminstration determines the standards over the next year, but QSR brands can start preparing now. They can begin by ensuring they are following best practices in nutritional analysis. But revamping their menu design to include calorie counts will pose a more complicated task.
Digital menu boards provide a versatile option, and with costs for the LCD screens having come down in recent years, a cost-effective one. Digital menu board providers such as WAND Corp. already have developed solutions that enable content to be changed or updated instantly.
"This is a complex and industry-changing event for the entire QSR community," said Greg Perrill, chief operating officer for WAND Corp. "We foresaw the need for providing customers with nutritional information of menu items and built the feature into our Digital Menu Board technology."
Scott Koller, executive vice president and chief operations officer for digital signage provider Wireless Ronin Technologies Inc. said in an earlier interview that he expects the digital menu board industry to accelerate with the passage of national menu labeling.
While static boards can certainly handle the additional information, digital boards allow brands to update their calorie information every time an ingredient or vendor changes, which also impacts the nutritional values.
"(That information) changes more frequently than we think," Koller said.
Combine those updates with frequent pricing changes and menu item additions, and the case is made for digital menu boards.
"As one QSR told me, digital menu boards will become the cost of doing business," he said.