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Panasonic bets on growth of drive-thru digital menu boards

Because of the heavy traffic volume at the drive-thru, Panasonic's Jeff Pinc said the industry is in the beginning stages of wide adoption of outdoor digital displays.

Panasonic bets on growth of drive-thru digital menu boards


| by Alicia Kelso — Editor, QSRWeb.com

Panasonic today unveiled its new fully-integrated digital drive-thru menu board solution, which includes proprietary displays created to weather outdoor elements and eliminate the need for enclosures.

On the software side, the new solution also includes integrated audio and video capabilities, an on-screen order confirmation and content management from the cloud.

Jeff Pinc, Panasonic's director of Food Services, said the turnkey solution has been in development for several years. He said he thinks Panasonic is the first to market with today's announcement, which coincided with FSTEC in New Orleans.

"With this release, we solved a few challenges that some early adopters had experienced with outdoor digital displays," he added. "We're at the beginning stages of having wide adoption of outdoor digital displays. I'm excited to see people get excited about this."

Hardware

The biggest challenge so far for outdoor digital displays comes from the hardware side and the need for sturdy, costly enclosures to offer more protection. Panasonic's new system includes panels that are self-heated and self-cooled to withstand temperatures ranging from minus 4 to 120 degrees.

"We built them so they could take the weather and the sunlight, and to keep the dust and snow and sleet out. We also built them with vandal-proof glass, so you can take a baseball bat to it and not damage it," Pinc said.

He also touts the system's brightness, which prevents content fade in direct sunlight.

"We saw what business challenges there were and we set out to design the display to overcome those challenges," Pinc said.

Software

On the software side, features of the new solution include:

  • Integration of order confirmation, which has typically been a separate feature;
  • Audio integration. This is an important feature to eliminate communication breakdowns between crew member and customer, and ensures order accuracy and smooth throughput, Pinc said.
  • Video integration. Video is an important feature, Pinc said, because it allows marketers to visually present their menu promotions. "Eye-catching, eye-popping video influences buying decisions," he said. "We eat with our eyes."
  • An integrated camera can be used for the cashier to see the customer placing an order, or as a two-way feature, allowing the cashier and customer to see each other for a more personal interaction.
  • POS integration. This can help generate data about purchasing trends and demographics, and allows operators to offer suggestive selling messaging based on check trends. It also allows consistency across the system and eliminates the risk for menu error, Pinc said.
  • Content management is offered in the cloud, so operators can be in control of their marketing and menu from anywhere at any time. "(For example) If I run out of stock of something, I don't want it to still be featured on the menu board," Pinc said.

Cost and adoption

Panasonic is currently in test with the new solution, and expects three to five restaurants to be in pilot by the end of this year. Once those pilots are able to report analytics and data, Pinc expects adoption to pick up.

"I suspect once the pilot sites prove that the ROI is there, there will be adoption. It's not going to be overnight, though; we have to prove this story," he said. "Indoor has been widely accepted. I scratch my head sometimes as to why outdoor isn't done first, with 70 percent of business coming from the drive-thru."

Because of the necessary ruggedness, outdoor digital displays remain more expensive than indoor digital signage solutions, although Pinc said the cost has and will continue to come down as the technology becomes more common. Panasonic's solution is available both as a turnkey solution and a la carte (customers can also choose from one to four panels and different mounts), so the cost ranges from about $10,000 to $40,000.

Pinc also expects a quicker return because of the high drive-thru volume, as well as the individualized marketing potential.

"Everything's naturally going to come down in price, but the uplift will maybe be better because you have that one-one-one interaction and the opportunity to influence the purchase in a more personal manner in the drive-thru is going to open up avenues that indoor digital dining displays don't have today," Pinc said.



Alicia Kelso

Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.

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