While there are clear benefits to the deployment of digital menu boards, some operators recognize that challenges remain.
At this week's Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas, quick service restaurant operators and digital signage proponents held a panel discussion that looked at the issue of deploying digital menu boards in QSRs.
Called "Digital Menu Boards in Quick Service Restaurants: Why Now?", the panel featured Sue Culver, VP of retail merchandising, International Dairy Queen Inc.; Robert Lopez, co-owner and operator of Wendy's franchise group JMJ-LLC; and Rick Engels, vice president of business development for digital signage specialists WAND Corp.
It quickly became clear that both Culver and Lopez are big proponents of going digital in their restaurants — and that Culver faces an uphill battle of getting them deployed across the highly independent, highly franchisee-owned Dairy Queen chain.
It also quickly became clear that both had reasons for their digital menu board (DMB) boosterism.
"I definitely believe that digital is the future of menu board merchandising," Culver said to open her remarks. "Whatever we put on that feature panel sells."
DQ has 47 menu types, she said, and deploying a digital menu board or digital feature panel in restaurants allows the company a number of significant advantages:
- Operators can feature more monthly promotions, from "Blizzard of the Month" to food and treat features.
- They can better utilize of dayparts, offering different specials targeted to different parts of the day.
- They can direct sales to higher margin items.
- They can add upsell messages.
- Monthly promotions start automatically.
- Digital offers the flexibility to select new menu items to feature if a location sells out of a limited time offer.
- DMBs can provide in-store training.
- They can build awareness of off-menu items, like DQ cakes.
- And they better support local store marketing programs.
DQ is testing 46- and 47-inch displays, and Culver said she would like to see wide adoption of the devices – but it's more likely that there will be some variety in levels of adoption across the chain.
JMJ-LLC started testing DMBs at a Wendy's in Las Vegas' McCarran Airport, Lopez said, and got "a pleasant surprise" when people would stand outside the location and snap photos of the menu boards.
"The success at that restaurant was just phenomenal," he said, and JMJ-LLC has started testing DMBs and digital feature boards at the point of purchase — Lopez called them "wing boards" — at more restaurants.
"There's a direct correlation to influencing customers' buying decisions by what's on those wing boards," he said.
Lopez also provided a number of reasons for going digital, including that it:
- Gives operators the ability to take messages up or down depending on market conditions — like what your competition is doing.
- Leverages dayparting — and allows for a consistent message across dayparts.
- Allows for promotion and increased sales of items that aren't selling well.
- And increases transaction speeds.
There's also a "tractor beam" effect of going digital, Lopez said. If people can see your DMBs, they are drawn in to the restaurant, and when they see your DMBs, their buying decisions are influenced.
Lopez told the audience whatever his restaurants highlight on their DMBs, they sell more of, whether it's desserts or combo meals. And since combo meals are the highest-profit items on the menus ...
"We're seeing higher check averages and we're seeing higher profits," he said.
Read more about digital menu boards.