When the founders of the fast casual restaurant chain The Cereal Bowl opened their first restaurant, digital menu boards were beyond their means. At the time, prices for the emerging technology was simply too high to justify.
Now they say prices of digital menu board systems have fallen to the point where it's hard to justify not purchasing one.
When the founders launched their concept in Miami in 2006, they deployed static vinyl foam menu boards.
"As a growing brand, we were continuously tweaking things here and there," said Michael Glassman, chief technology officer of The Cereal Bowl. "When you have a static board of any type you are continually replacing parts of it and it gets to be very expensive."
Today, the company operates three stores and has 44 in development. Digital menu boards are now standard in its operation.
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"We've always been very tech-savvy, and we wanted to have a menu board that would integrate into other technologies that we had in our restaurants," Glassman said. "There are so many things you can do with digital menus that you can't do with static menus."
For example, if a restaurant is running low on a particular item, the store manager can easily remove it from the menu. Likewise, if a restaurant is overstocked on a particular item, the manager can discount or promote that product to keep it from going to waste.
Digital menu boards allow for easy dayparting, Glassman said.
"If we want to promote something in the morning and then promote something different in the midday and let people see what we have, the system allows us to do that," he said.
And because the company's growth is occurring via franchising, corporate officials wanted a way to maintain control of the brand, even as The Cereal Bowl opens restaurants as far away as Qatar. "We wanted something that we could control the changing of prices and so forth from outside the franchise," Glassman said. "In terms of brand control a digital menu board system is a no-brainer."
Although the most basic use of a digital menu board system is to display a restaurant's menu and prices, the boards can be programmed to serve a number of other functions. "Restaurants are able to cross market promotions, programs and services to the consumers while they are in a queue line," said Richard Ventura, director of sales - vertical solutions for Itasca, Ill.-based NEC Display Solutions of America, a provider of digital signage solutions. "By using the screens for additional services, restaurants are able to educate and inform the customers about new products that are being sold, special promotions and similar items."
Jeff Levine, founder of the Margate, Fla.-based fast casual restaurant Salad Creations, is testing a digital menu board at one of the chain's locations in South Florida. "Through the Internet, we can change our message on a daily basis," Levine said. "It's a neat tool for us as far as running quarterly promotions and so forth."
Content includes promoting the various salads the chain sells, as well as new store openings. The company also uses the board to educate new customers about Salad Creations and the restaurant's ordering process.
"We have a whole program running on the menu board that walks you through the steps on how to create your own salad," Levine said. "We have 40 different salad toppings, and it's a little intimidating for a first-time customer coming through our door."
Read more about digital menu boards.