There are a handful of benefits to implementing a digital menu board system at the drive-thru, including compelling video/image messaging opportunities, flexibility for menu changes and facility modernization.
These advantages were discussed in last week's webinar, "Creating a Memorable Drive-Thru Experience with Digital Signage." The event was sponsored by NEC and featured presenters Richard Ventura, director of sales-vertical solutions for NEC Display Solutions of America Inc., and Oliver Vagner, principal architect of Solution Forge LLC. It was hosted by Christopher Hall, editor of DigitalSignageToday.com.
Although a number of QSRs have started to incorporate digital menu boards inside their stores, the panel's focus was on the drive-thru because of its significance to the business model.
"Seventy percent of revenues are made through drive-thru sales. Digital allows you to maximize that opportunity through targeted marketing messages, to change the message rapidly and get more out to your customer. So there is an opportunity for upselling or behavior adjustment," Vagner said.
He added that digital equipment makes a statement that a brand is relevant and modern, reduces clutter and makes compliance easier.
There are several key considerations to keep in mind when choosing whether or not to move forward with a digital menu board system.
Using the right equipment
Operators have to make sure their digital menu displays are outdoor-appropriate, according to Ventura. Standard LCD screens, for example, will go black when positioned in direct sunlight. Hi-Bright LCDs are more appropriate for this setting.
Also, outdoor digital systems need to be properly protected from temperature and physical damage.
"You need to keep it running at an optimal temperature and to make sure you have a product that will withstand someone kicking or throwing a rock at it. It's really important to use professional/commercial equipment; not to buy something commercial grade from a retailer and hope it works in a 24/7 environment. It won't. These investments aren't cheap. Make sure you have the right equipment so it can last 4, 6, 10 years down the road," Ventura said.
Another important component to consider is the system's content management software. A fast-paced QSR should have what Vagner calls "operational scalability," in which a network of 1,000 displays can be managed easily with few resources.
Operators also should have the ability to monitor the system at all times, since the menu system acts as the primary mode of communication to the customer. If there is a problem, whether it is a rise in temperature, change in the fan speed, etc., you should be alerted early enough to dispatch a technician without interruption of service.
Location, location, location
Once you have the right equipment picked out, the menu board's location becomes the priority.
"You need to make sure you're putting the sign in a proper location to best serve its purpose. You don't want something hidden around the corner where it won't affect the drivers behind them in a queue. You want to maximize its use," Ventura said.
Distance from the point of order also should be factored into the placement. All of the customers in a single vehicle should be able to see the entire board.
Finally, once the location is set, the menu board has to be angled in a certain way so that customers can look at it comfortably, and without any part of the screen blocked.
Motion and compliance
QSRs should approach content strategy with speed of service in mind. Vagner suggests adding multiple creative messages to presale boards during peak orders to distract customers during long wait periods. However, during slower times, messages should be changed to be shorter and more concise.
Also, because of the boards' motion from video/image messaging, operators should be mindful of local ordinances when positioning the menu board. Those placed near a major throughway can be distracting for motorists and therefore not allowable.
One of the major drivers for digital menu boards is in meeting impending federal nutritional requirements. Systems that are connected through a central management system can store caloric data that can be easily and efficiently changed with every new menu launch or adjustment.
"Digital technology will provide a potential solution to ease some of the logistical nightmares around being able to keep up with nutritional labeling requirements, especially in the drive-thru," Vagner said.
Since digital menu board technology is relatively new, the investment is high. Returns on investment will be different for every operator, according to Vagner, and honest assessments of cost and benefits will be tricky to pinpoint specifically to a digital system.
However, the intangibles are a bit more obvious.
"Implementing digital is a brand building exercise. It's keeping it relevant; keeping it modern," Vagner said. "The quality of facilities and how they look to consumers really has a huge impact."
However, he added, adding a digital component is something that should be done at an appropriate time – while redoing an entire facility or building a new one.
"If you have a run down building, your money will be better spent in redoing the building rather than trying to throw lipstick on a pig and throwing digital signage in there," he said.
Read more about digital signage.
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.