More commonly seen than ever, digital menu boards can be the key to transforming a fast food or restaurant business. It’s not easy managing a food outlet, and the running costs, time-heavy workloads, and daily trade fluctuations can make it very easy to forget about moving forward. Digital menu boards are now seen on a daily basis in a variety of food establishments, but many restauranteurs are hesitant to adopt their use. That’s because they see the upfront costs and fail to factor in the many advantages of going digital. While a digital menu board setup is not going to be suitable for every food-based business model, this guide may highlight the fact that your business could be flowing more smoothly and generating more profits simply by utilizing the latest in digital menu technology.

Digital Menu Boards as Investment

Customer satisfaction is the main focus of the restaurant trade, and it’s easy to overlook the pitfalls of traditional menu choices. It can end up costing a lot of money to constantly replace menus, especially if you’re going through the design stage, the printing stage, and the laminating stage. The larger your menu, the quicker those costs add up. Digital menu boards will cost considerably less in the long-term, and they are an investment that comes with a wide variety of benefits and advantages. The key advantages are as follows:

1. Improved Communication

Much of restaurant and fast-food work is about communication. When it comes to your menu, you need to ensure that it is saying exactly what you want it to say. Paper menus are static, and that means that they are very limited in the messages that they can convey. By using digital menu boards, it is possible to make your communications much clearer. They are also advantageous in that they allow you to change what you’re communicating at the touch of a button, so that message customization is quick and easy.

2. Time Management

One of the hardest resources to get hold of in the food sector is time. Running a food outlet of any kind places huge demands on your life, and it’s rare to find a restaurant owner who has more than an hour a day to relax in. Updating paper menus is a long, drawn-out task that can take months to get from making the decision to being able to hand out menus to customers. With digital menu boards, you make it incredibly easy to update your menu, and it often takes a single person just a few minutes to make even big changes. 

3. Cost Savings

Print menus are expensive. While a single paper menu is relatively cheap, when you need multiple copies again and again (often a few times a year), those design and printing costs can quickly add up. Of course, digital menus don’t need to be printed out, which means that you can make significant savings in even the first year of installation. Recurring costs can be a very real hazard to the tight profit margins of a food business, so cutting those repeated expenses should always be a priority.

4. Creating an Experience

More than ever, diners want to have an experience, which is why restaurant trends are leaning towards social media moments and background music playlists. Digital menu boards make an immediate impact, and the fact that they can allow you to make use of dynamic visual effects, animations, and video content can all go a long way to improving that sense of experience for your customers. For those outlets that target younger demographics, those visual moments can be the key to attracting repeat customers.

5. Making More Sales

Study after study shows that digital menu boards can increase sales. Everything from a 3% to a 25% boost has been reported, but the fact is that along with the savings that are at the core of digital signage, consumers are more likely to spend more if they have digital menu boards to help guide their decision making. Big-name fast food outlet Burger King installed digital menu boards in London and Birmingham back in 2010 and saw an incredible 64% increase in total sales over the first twelve months of adoption. Other fast-food outlets have reported similar profit growth after installing digital menu boards, so if the initial cost of implementing digital signage is causing you to delay the decision, you could be costing your restaurant money in lost profits.

6. Upselling and Limited Promotions

Chalkboards that display the menu of the day or your daily specials are a staple of the modern restaurant, but these can be time-consuming to prepare and write by hand. For promotions, especially those daily specials that need to be sold today, digital menus are ideally suited. That’s because you can add extra offers at the touch of a button, and plan your signage so that it shows off those special offers as regularly as you like. For touchscreen digital menus at drive-throughs, upselling is easier than ever too, and can even keep diners and drinkers in your restaurant for longer. 

7. Instant Menu Changes

If you have different menus at different times of the day, then your digital menu boards make it quick and easy to showcase exactly what customers can order. Rather than rushing around at midday to swap your breakfast menu for your lunch menu, you can simply automate your signage so that it changes as soon as the transition between periods happens. By getting rid of the manual element of this common change, you make it easier for staff to cope with the shift to a lunchtime or evening menu, and make it clearer for customers to know what to order. 

8. Branding Benefits

Branding relies on consistency, and your restaurant branding needs to match across all of your outlets. Multiple locations can make it very challenging to ensure brand consistency, and that means loyal customers can become disappointed when they try out a new outlet that you own. Digital signage can be seamlessly linked to any number of outlets so that menu updates, imagery, and messages are all consistent. This creates a more seamless experience for your diners and improves brand loyalty, no matter how many outlets you run. Going digital also means that you will be reducing your carbon footprint since you will no longer be relying on printed materials that will fade and end up in the bin.

9. Cut Down Waiting Times

One of the key advantages of digital menu boards for busy fast food outlets with heavy foot traffic is the ability to cut down on waiting times. That’s because your digital signage can highlight the most popular and commonly sold items while showcasing the special offers that you want to promote. If you have a seated area, then those immediate, highly visual menus can even help those diners to decide what they’re going to order before they’ve even been seated. Should waiting times start to rise, then your menu boards can be adjusted to offer entertainment options that can reduce frustration and help the time go faster until the food is delivered.

10. Health and Safety Regulations

The foodservice industry is particularly vulnerable to changes in health and safety regulations. New rules regarding nutritional information and calorie numbers can make your paper menus not only outdated and less effective but could even lead to you working outside the parameters of new legislation. With the rapid updating possible with digital signage, you can ensure that you are displaying all of the information that you need to display. Millennial diners, in particular, want to have a wide range of information available and expect to be able to access it as needed.

These are just some of the main advantages that digital menu boards can provide a food outlet with. For smart restaurateurs, going digital is clearly something that should be factored into any growth strategy, especially as the installation costs of digital signage continue to drop. Digital technology has been around long enough for older generations to be more comfortable using it, and millennials (and the emerging gen z demographic) increasingly expect it. 

How to Use Digital Menu Boards 

Once you have decided to make the leap into digital signage, then you’re going to want to ensure that you use it right. There are some clear factors that you’re going to need to think about and decide on. Even if you have designed traditional paper menus for your outlet, there are some key differences to consider alongside the usual decisions. Here are some of the areas that you’re going to need to give some thought to.

1. Break it down

A confusing menu is not a good menu and will damage your ability to make a good sale. Menu design can be a very big subject to tackle, but the first step is to break it down into categories and then into columns and rows for easier organization. Make it as easy to read as possible, and it will have more value to both you and your customers. Remember to use different text sizes to make it easy to understand those categories, and consider bolding and italicizing similar categories. A hierarchy of text is a much-discussed issue in menu design, and it’s highly beneficial to prioritize readability and clarity.

2. Eye Movement

The human eye scans a page of information in a very clear way, but you can affect that movement by adjusting the visual weight off your menu. A menu design that is heavy on one side with text can focus attention on a specific area that you want to promote. The goal with menu design is finding the balance that will allow you to convey all of the information that you want to display without offering so much information that the customer becomes overwhelmed. Of course, with digital menu boards, you can use trial and error to get this right, in a way that wouldn’t be cost-effective with printed menu boards.

3. The Image Issue

Images look good on a digital menu, so you’re going to need to take the time to get professional photos taken or to get artists to design patterns and images that you want to use. However, because those images often look so good, it is very easy to start including more than you should. Image overuse is a very common issue on digital signage, and it’s important that you get your image balance as natural as your text balance. Remember, some menus don’t need to use images, so you may be able to avoid imagery altogether if it fits your brand culture.

Top Tip: Never use stock images as this looks very unprofessional and will lessen the impact of your branding efforts.

4. Movement or Still?

You can have a lot of fun when it comes to designing the look of a digital menu board. Animations are easy, as are videos that can add motion and depth to your communications. However, while this can be very useful for a) boosting brand impact, and b) making a more enticing image, it can also be a distraction. While interactive menus or those with moving elements can help with promotions, they can also slow down the buying process. That means they are losing impact in terms of ROI and overall profits. Use animations sparingly.

Testing Products

In these days of data and in-depth analytics, testing products has never been easier. For the restaurant industry, testing out new menu items is critical, which is why daily specials promotions are ever-present. What’s particularly useful about digital menu boards is that you can track exactly what’s working and what’s not. Since new menu items are easy to add to your system, you can insert new menu choices in as needed, and over a set period can evaluate and monitor that product’s success rate based on its presence as part of your menu.

Whether you want to adjust your prices due to an increase in running costs or you simply like the flexibility of having more control of your menu while maximizing your profits, digital menu boards are becoming a must-have for restaurants and fast food outlets of all kinds. With the easy scalability, improved brand impact, and more streamlined customer experience, food outlets need to start assessing the suitability of going digital in an age where it is becoming increasingly critical.