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Study uncovers areas of improvement for menu boards

Study uncovers areas of improvement for menu boards

 When it comes to QSR menu boards, customers have some very definite opinions about what they like and don't, but now a large national survey of those sentiments is spelling out what works and what does not in detail. 

The study conducted by restaurant industry consultants, King-Casey and SeeLevel HX, found that although both drive-thru and interior QSR menu boards are strong sales tools, many QSRs are failing to use them to maximum effect, a news release said. This was especially found to be the case for limited-service brand drive-thrus, where research indicates nearly 70% of business happens. 

Study looked at wide slice of limited-service brands' menu boards

To gather the study's data, SeeLevel HX collected customer perceptions of interior and drive-thru QSR and fast casual brand menu boards to both find out where the brands are winning and losing for their order processes and menu board quality. Then, the study rated the top 10 national limited service brands in their use of menu boards.

Secret shoppers visited 15 locations for each of five QSR brands (Arby's, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin' and Taco Bell) and five brands the study divided into the fast casual category (Fazoli's, Panda Express, Panera Bread, Raising Cane's [only five locations evaluated] and Starbucks). 

Here are some of the most salient findings: 

  • Though 70% of limited-service brand sales occur at drive-thrus, interior menu boards scored higher for "encouraging bigger orders." 
  • QSR menu boards outrated fast casual brands for providing "good choices," and offerings to fit every daypart.  
  • Fast casual menu boards scored higher than QSRs for connoting "good value for money." 
  • 66% of evaluators scored menu board ordering as positive. 
  • Interior menu boards scored more "excellent" ratings (27%) than drive-thrus (20%).
  • Interior menu board rated higher at "encouraging bigger orders" than drive-thru boards.
  • Drive-thru boards were tougher to read than interior menu boards, but all were relatively hard for a significant number of customers to decipher (just 55% found drive-thru boards legible, with 60% saying interior boards were so).

Study authors said these findings suggest that drive-thru boards might be a new "new point of emphasis" for QSRs, since the study indicates there's ample room for improvement in the drive-thru. The study also determined that most brands should put some effort into improving value and quality perceptions through their menu boards, both inside and out.  

QSR vs. fast casual menu boards

Both QSR and fast casual customers rated ordering from menu boards as positive (64% vs. 68% respectively, with QSRs winning for showing variety, all daypart offering choices and "encouraging bigger orders." But fast casuals menu boards were found to be easier to understand and read, better at making customers "feel good about the brand" and better at offering value, food quality and healthful options. 

"I was really struck by those findings," King-Casey principal Tom Cook said in the release. "The QSRs seem to do a much better job communicating dayparts." 

Winners ... and the others

Big winners in the study included: 

  • Panda Express — deemed a fast casual in this study — received high marks for their menu boards facilitation of the ordering process (90%), as well as the quality of their boards (82% said excellent or very good). 
  • Fazoli's, where 82% liked their order process.  
  • Chick-fil-A menu boards rated excellent or very good by 73%. 

Those with less-than-glowing results included: 

  • On ordering processes, Panera Bread (50%) and Starbucks (47%) scored relatively low. 
  • Menu board ratings at Dunkin' (less than 50% excellent or very good). 

Finally, as far as image use on menu boards, the study results indicate that there really can be too much of a good thing, with the top user of menu board images, In this category Panera exceeded all others, using 72 images on its drive-thru menu board, contrasting with only four on its interior menu board, which study authors said may have detracted from in its ordering process score. 

For numbers of images used, Raising Cane's came in on the low end with 12 items on both types of menu boards. Burger King had more than 40 images, while Dunkin' had more than 30 and the rest of the brands studied had less than that. But one final note on an area for improvement came from the King-Casey principal who led the visual assessment, Howland Blackiston, who said all brands would do well to work harder at distinguishing themselves visually through their boards. 

"All menu boards are starting to look the same — 70% have white backgrounds," he said in the release. "Typically brands want to differentiate themselves and menu boards can make a contribution without sacrificing legibility and ease of use." 


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