By Chad Cohen, vice president, 1851Franchise.com.
Menu boards are the backbone of any restaurant's operations. After all, guests can't order what they can't see.
In addition to creating live interaction between a restaurant and its customers, menu boards also create real opportunities to build brand awareness while influencing customer behavior. And yet, we rarely consider their impact on the bottom line. Does the type of menu board really matter? Are consumers swayed one way or another by digital technology versus nostalgic chalkboard art? How important is imagery and graphics?
According to the recent Datassential's Menu Board Keynote Report, 63 percent of consumers read menu boards to learn about specials. However, 30 percent of operators don't even bother to feature their promotions. One-third of consumers said they ordered the cheapest item because it was the easiest to find, but an equal number responded that menu boards are difficult to read and generally placed too high. Additionally, while digital menu boards have received a lot of attention across the industry, only 16 percent of operators are using them according to the report's findings.
While digital menu board adoption may not be as widespread as we think, they can provide solutions for both consumers and operators, including the dynamic introduction of new menu items, and provide richer product descriptions while allowing for greater design flexibility and continual updates.
One franchise in particular that has embraced digital menu boards for their ability to differentiate the customer experience is Slim Chickens, the eternally cool brand and emerging national franchise leader in the "better chicken" segment. According to Slim Chickens co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Greg Smart, digital menu boards allow their restaurants to educate guests about menu items while driving craveability and reducing perceived wait times.
"The key is flexibility. For us as a brand, it gives us the ability to change menu descriptions, add new menu items and alter layouts to possibly shift consumer behavior," Smart said. "Rotation of promotions and product images are extremely powerful in driving consumer behavior to direct our product mix. Also, the overall cost savings long-term compared to traditional printed menus is huge and ultimately saves us money over time."
Smart went on to say that digital menu boards overall provide operators with a unique way to engage customers while driving sales, profitability and loyalty. He also reinforced that not only can the technology drive bottom line results, it can increase operational efficiency while improving speed of service and execution.
These improvements can be achieved by leveraging the dynamic and adaptive capabilities of digital menus to involve customers in more personalized ways than ever before. By leveraging local demographic trends, regional preferences and other geo-centric information, restaurant brands can adapt their offerings to customers at the exact point of purchase for a more customized and personal experience.
While menu boards have certainly evolved inside the four walls of restaurants, change is happening in the drive-thru lane as well. While the philosophy behind the drive-thru has remained the same for decades, new technologies and streamlined operations are ensuring brands can remain relevant with broader menu strategies to maximize the consumer experience while reducing costs.
One company specifically that understands the value of guest interaction with their drive-thru menu boards is Checkers & Rally's Drive in Restaurants. In late January, the iconic burger brand underwent its first major menu board refresh in a few years to simplify communications and reduce color clutter while reinforcing its strategy of executing "Crazy Good Food at an Exceptional Value."
"Our food is and will always be the star of the show," said Terri Snyder, vice president and chief marketing officer for Checkers & Rally's Drive in Restaurants. "The refresh of our menu boards allows our food to remain center stage while providing us with the ability to introduce the brand's new 'Value at Every Price' menu that features more than 20 items and combinations at every value point between $1 and $5. While our guests are benefiting from our menu's more streamlined approach, our franchisees are as well. The new menu boards are expected to create $2.4 million in savings across our system through mix shifts and ingredient savings."
Snyder went on to say the shifts in menu design and the simplicity of the elements involved have reduced food costs by more than 30 basis points while driving increases in both speed of service and guest satisfaction.
Whether you employ digital or traditional menu boards in your operations, one thing is for certain — if you take advantage of the dynamic nature of any menu board and continually innovate, the means in which you engage with your customers is endless.