Technology is the way of the future and that means even fast-casual restaurants and others would do well to embrace trends. Whilst you don’t want so much technology in your restaurant that it looks like Times Square, Shibuya Crossing, or Piccadilly Circus - because customers will most likely be overwhelmed - a balance of having video-driven digital menu boards with static imagery will work well for any establishment.
So, how much do digital menu boards cost and are they worth it? The answer varies on price, but not on value. Digital menu boards are always worth it, but, before we get into the reasons, let’s discuss price:
Small lower-tech menu-board displays can cost around £500 - not the fancy McDonald’s-esque kind mind you - whilst technology to turn your own televisions into smart displays costs under £200 (for every screen to say the same message). More advanced menu boards - such as those from LG used by McDonald's - can cost a couple to a few thousand to buy and install; quotes range from £1,000 for a single board to £7,000+ for a series of boards, but come with safeguards to ensure they’re always on and working such as power surge protectors, their own power supply when power fails, and automatic software and bug fixes to correct glitches.
If you aren’t quite ready to shell out hundreds or thousands, some easy roll outs are simple such as keeping old menu boards, but adding a digital display (i.e. a large, hi-def television) to the middle of your menu board where you can rotate specials or special offers.
Here are some links if you want to check out high-end, polished digital menu board options: Wand, Eclipse Digital, Pixel Inspiration, Digital Signage Today, Armagard, and Khazina Digital Signage, amongst numerous others. Please note that SHOES FOR CREWS (EUROPE), Ltd. isn’t affiliated with any of these digital menu board brands.
So, the cost may initially be pricey; however, you may begin with cheaper initial options (i.e. televisions with single images) and upgrade later, or you may decide to go all-in and make a huge purchase. All case studies in the fast-casual dining arena agree that digital menu boards are the future, there’s huge ROI with menu boards, and that the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Here are 8 ways menu boards are worth it:
- Eliminate the cost of reprinting menus and marketing materials
- They can influence buyer decisions
- You'll be cutting edge
- Need to test a new menu? No problem
- Training made simple
- Become more eco-friendly
- So how do the figures stack up?
- Key: know your objective
In the long-run, digital menu boards save money because of the economy of scale. Static menu boards cost around £250-350 per store to update. So, if you want a seasonal menu - or you spot a typo - that’s a large up-front cost. If we say that these boards cost on average £300 and your chain has 1,000 locations, you’re now spending £300,000 every time your menu boards need to be printed. Most establishments need major menu board updates around 6-8 times per year (just think of how often Starbucks seems to change their boards). Putting the middle-ground figure at 7 updates per year, the annual cost for those 1,000 stores is £2.1 million, which is about £2,100 per store each year - and that’s not including shipping, installation, and time. Recurring update fees for digital menu boards may set you back £1,000-1,500 per year per location (with some charging as little as £600 per location per year), the savings are evident.
Even if your establishment is not a franchise with multiple locations, the savings are the same.
Furthermore, legislation changes sometimes happen as they have in the US, which requires calorie count is displayed on each menu item. If you’d just printed your menu boards, you’d have to re-print them. When your boards are digital, if new laws come into effect, being compliant won’t be expensive.
When you have a customisable digital menu board, you have the ability to influence buyer decisions. For example, you can cycle through specials during certain periods of the day. You may have a popular menu item that might run out, so you can combat customer frustration by promoting (and maybe discounting) another item. You can easily remove and add items - and it looks like nothing has changed from a customer perspective. In this manner, you can influence buyer decisions.
You may even have a more high-tech menu board where you have moving graphics either displaying the food or having steam come off the food to make it more enticing.
Digital menu boards allow for easy up-selling since you can flick through promotions such as “upgrade your order to a large for only £2 more.” Studies show that up selling really works and creates huge profit margins since soft drinks, for example, come with a 90% profit margin and a side of fries can cost merely a few pennies to the company (50 lbs of potatoes at wholesale prices can cost around £10 or less and can feed multiple customers).
Digital menu boards don’t need to be put up and taken down every time your menu changes. Your menu can adapt if you serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which means no menu changeovers - or rotating boards. You can simply update the menu digitally (and it can even be on a timer) at any time of day.
Studies show that customer experience is improved when the digital boards capture customer attention and perceived wait times are lowered.
Mostly, digital menu boards seem current and up to date as well as consistent because you’ll never have outdated graphics, fonts, or designs. When in Germany, Burger King placed a single 42” screen in the middle of static signage in 300 test stores to push specials and upgrades, revenue shot up - and that’s for a simple change.
A consideration before adding digital menu boards is making sure the screens can handle the kitchen environment. A hot, steamy environment doesn’t work well for technological components, so make sure you’re protecting your electronic equipment properly.
Digital menu boards allow you to test different strategies week by week and compare. For example, you may see if your milkshake sells better to the lunch crowd of evening crowd. You can increase prices of items by pennies to see if it influences buyer decision, or place discounts on items that aren’t selling well to manage kitchen stock since you’ll no longer be limited by pricing stickers. Content can be automatically and instantly changed to fit your needs.
You can choose to test layouts and content testing becomes low-cost and attainable. You can play with your marketing strategy, see if customers respond better to videos, static imagery, or animations - or variation. Your company has the ability to learn what works best for customers and what facilitates the ordering process.
Since you’ll have an influx of screens in your restaurant, they can be used to train staff, entertain customers, and during emergencies. During non-operational hours, the screens can be used to present training to your in-house staff. Promotions and images can entertain your customers, drive sales, and encourage them to return. When there’s an emergency, your menus can be used as exit guidance or providing emergency phone numbers and information.
Compared to posters and traditional printing, digital signs are more environmentally friendly and more cost-effective. If your restaurant uses promotional posters, for example, you can now cut down on printing, delivery, installation, and disposal. Screens can be used throughout your store - not just for the menu - for a variety of purposes, all saving paper. From a menu perspective, you now have countless opportunities to update your menu boards without the cost of printing and updating that you’d have in previous years.
Even though digital menu boards can cost £1,000 to over £7,000, most quick-service restaurants recuperate costs without six months of installation. Here’s the average percentage breakdown of the time it takes for restaurants to break even on their initial digital menu board investment:
- 0-6 months – 11.5 percent;
- 7-12 months – 30.8 percent;
- 13-18 months – 26.9 percent;
- 19-24 months – 19.2 percent; and
- 24+ months – 11.5 percent
The bottom line is most restaurants make their money back relatively quickly. Any money made after that time is profit, but the interesting point is digital menu boards have shown to increase sales and user experience by 10 to 60 percent - not to mention the savings over printing traditional menu boards. Hundreds of pounds are often spent when changing or adding items to menu boards, with digital boards, those expenses are eliminated and any changes can be done automatically with no cost at all.
Whilst menu boards save money, time, effort, and increase profits, before you invest, it’s important to understand your objectives. What is it you hope to accomplish by installing a digital menu board? If you just want upgrades for the sake of progress and technology, you’ll have a difficult time understanding if the menu boards are actually working for you. Is the technology delivering its promises? You can’t know if you haven’t determined what it is you wanted to accomplish.
Your objectives can be sales uplift, perceived wait times, overall restaurant impression, and so forth. Once you know what you want to accomplish, you can determine if you’ve been successful. You wouldn’t run a marketing campaign for your restaurant with no measurable ROI or analysis of it the campaign worked; the same is true for your digital menu board objective.
When you invest in expensive equipment, furthermore, you don’t want just to turn it into an expensive print-free poster board. Many content management systems for menu boards include analysis of result, integrated into the software. A good way to compare impact if you have at least two branches is to compare profits over one month of your restaurant with a digital board versus the one with a static board. You can simply promote a particular menu item over the specified time period, and compare sales figures.
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