Should You Go Big and Go Digital with Your Menu?
All Signs Point to Yes
Laminated paper menus…so 2000s. Today’s eyes are increasingly drawn to the artistry of digital menu screens that connect diners and forward-thinking restaurateurs. With the promise of targeted marketing, sales boosts, environmental savings, and an immersive dining experience, it may well be digital’s time to shine at your operation.
We checked out some basics to consider with Rich Ventura, vice chairman of the Digital Signage Federation and vice president of business development and solutions at NEC Display Solutions, and Ben Hardy, NEC product manager.
What are the benefits of digital menu boards?
“Most important is the ability to remotely control and update content on the fly,” says Hardy. “That’s a huge advantage when you think about promoting new items on your menu, or kickstarting a lackluster seller.” The new FDA regulations mandating accessible displays of nutritionals and ingredients for consumers can also be complied with immediately instead of waiting for printed details. Switching up menus by daypart is easily accomplished and can be scheduled within the screen itself. Hardy has also seen digital menu boards used for emergency messaging and employee training. “Things change rapidly in the restaurant industry, and digital capabilities let you keep up,” says Hardy.
What is required to set them up?
A typical setup would includes three to four 42- to 46-inch commercial screens, mounting, tabling and a POS system. Commercial screens protect the investment, says Hardy, because if one signal goes down, another source will immediately take over.
Is there a simpler approach?
Absolutely. The best way to start might be with a USB and some 42- or 50-inch screens, no POS system needed. “You can create your own content and plug it in, or use a PC,” explains Hardy. Whether you opt for full-blown or simple, professional mounting is strongly recommended. “If you have multiple screens, they won’t line up correctly,” cautions Hardy. The one-time investment in mounting ensures that your screens are perfectly calibrated.
How about power?
Surge suppression is advised as restaurants tends to have a lot of ‘dirty power,’ says Ventura. Menu boards should run on isolated power runs so that they’re not on shared circuits or even light switches.
What kind of ROI are operators seeing for digital menu boards?
Ventura recommends establishing the ROO (return on objectives) first before setting up the ROI. “Every situation is different, of course, but I’ve seen returns as high as 15 to 20 percent and as low as one to three percent,” he says.
Tips on what to feature in terms of content?
Beyond displaying accurate caloric information and potential allergens, high-quality, realistic pictures of your dishes will build interest and influence purchasing behavior, helping to drive sales of your high-ticket items, according to Ventura. The graphics don’t need to be complex or full of motion; in fact that may distract from the whole intent of menu boards. Think beauty shots in rich, vibrant colors that zero in on the grill marks of your juiciest burger or capture the freshness of a crisp, green salad.
Any other advice for the digital menu newbie?
“Change your content frequently,” says Hardy, “don’t leave it static.” There are endless possibilities for creativity, from multi-screen set ups with compelling new product ads, seasonal specials, or the new wave of ‘takeover’ promotions a la movie theatres, in which one vendor controls the entire screen with a series of 30-second ads. The trick, as with any new technology, is getting started with a vendor you trust.