Digital menu boards (DMB) have been in existence for over a decade. Back in 2012, the perception – albeit a misconception – was that digital menu boards were just a “TV screen with a menu on it.” Today, DMBs are powered by cloud applications, edge processing, and AI. And these technologies help DMBs deliver personalized and streamlined experiences, redefining how customers interact with the world’s largest businesses.
With so many different components of a modern DMB, it is important to start with a strict definition. A digital menu board is any business-operated, customer-facing screen that communicates the menu to customers.
These modern capabilities are powered by much more than “TV Screens.” They are built into integrated systems with sensors, touchscreens, advanced Content Management and Design software and media players. These technologies work together to deliver personalized content and a wide range of other features that help businesses satisfy modern customers.
We’ll examine what makes up an interactive digital menu board, cover the benefits, see how these platforms work, take a closer look at the hardware and software management, and other considerations.
A Closer Look at Digital Menu Boards Today
Let’s start by understanding how Digital Menu Boards (DMBs) evolved from “TV on a screen” to take on the advanced capabilities you see today.
The process did not start with customers, but rather business needs. Restaurants often hire consultants to help advise on business growth. However, since they did not have anyone to manage DMBs, these consultants started to fill in the gaps. Consultants are expensive, but they ended up spending time on low-level menu corrections and ensuring the right creative content was displayed. That is how restaurants came to realize that they needed services around digital menu board hardware and software. They started to outsource these DMB-specific services to digital signage companies.
Then the pandemic hit. Almost no industry felt the sting as much as the restaurant industry. Customers were concerned with health. Supply chains became highly volatile. Indoor dining was closed down, and mandates could change the business context without warning.
The volatility elevated digital menu boards, as well as the need to manage them. Restaurants with digital menu boards were able to quickly leverage their deployment to keep their customer communications relevant and timely. Whether it was communicating business safety procedures, telling customers the drive-thru was still open, or providing a phone number for curbside pickup, businesses who deployed DMBs were able to adapt and stay competitive.
Quick service restaurants leveraged DMBs to gain market share from 2020 to 2022, and in the process drove development and popularity of many of the new features you see in DMBs today.
Read more about how quick service restaurants responded to the pandemic with digital menu board technology in our white paper >
How digital menu boards work
Remember the definition of a DMB? A digital menu board is any business-operated, customer-facing screen that communicates the menu to customers. There are instances of digital signage in restaurants that face in-house, but these are different elements of a digital signage system. DMBs face customers and are restaurant owned.
Likewise, some people mistake DMBs for QR Code-based web applications. Now, many restaurants use QR Codes to help their customers launch their digital menu through their mobile device. However, mobile devices are not DMBs, simply because the screen is not business owned. These different technologies can be integrated into a single system, but not all screens are DMBs.
There are three primary components to digital menu boards: hardware, software and services.
Display screens, touchscreens and kiosks, media player, sensors and cameras all power modern Digital Menu Boards. The hardware can be displayed outside as in a drive-thru or inside the restaurant, like in the lobby/ordering area.
Software is the programming that helps drive the digital display menu content as well as manage customer interactivity. Digital menu board content management software powers the hardware with the creative content, and it helps content creators produce content quickly and within brand guidelines.
In addition to content management, restaurants will also use design software to integrate visual content with live data. This live data will come from various data sources and will determine everything on the final displayed image, from pricing, to suggestive sell.
This smart system is what enabled restaurants to quickly and easily change their content as the business environment changes. A great CMS will be able to change pricing on the fly, without downloading any new images. This is the basis for bringing AI-driven suggestive sell into restaurants.
Managed services are not only an upfront cost for DMBs; they are required after the initial deployment. As restaurants discovered, someone needs to manage the displayed content. Content and information must be structured and fed to the content management system to display the right content at the right times. This is not a static feed but increasingly a moving system, more like a website than a static menu. Changes need to be made to keep the messaging relevant and impactful.
Benefits of today’s digital menu boards
Due to technology advancements and innovators within the industry, digital menu boards have evolved into dynamic communication and marketing platforms. Benefits include:
Managing content at scale
Whether it’s updating the menu board on the availability of items, displaying timely promotions, or coordinating the content, digital menu boards today (with their software and content management systems) empower businesses to make these updates quickly, accurately and from a centralized location.
Increase customer engagement
Integrated digital menu boards – depending on the strategy of deployment – can help improve the customer experience. As an example, the digital menu board may display certain items that might be of further interest to the customer, offer them a way to customize their order, speed up the process of ordering etc. Improved customer experience likely means increased engagement and sales.
Personalization and Relevance
Did you know that 76% of customers get frustrated when businesses do not deliver personalized interactions (McKinsey, 2021)? Digital menu boards help businesses deliver personalized content, even to customers that have not opted into their loyalty program. This is made possible by programming contextual cues into the content management system. Simple data points, like weather, temperature, and time helps DMBs deliver the right menu, with the right suggestions, at the right time. Streamlining the order process not only increases accuracy and sales, it increases customer satisfaction and retention.
Delivering data analytics
Some integrated digital menu boards can capture relevant (and often real-time) customer data the business can tap into. Walk-in data, what the customer is ordering/considering, tying in the digital menu board with an app – all these opportunities can pull in relevant customer data: time on the app, what they are looking at, what is transacting, location awareness, time of day, etc. Businesses can use these customer data analytics to improve experiences and drive sales.
Digital menu board platforms can be leveraged as part of an overall multi-channel communication strategy. Loyalty applications integrate with Digital Menu Boards to streamline omnichannel communications with one-to-one, personalized content.
If a customer orders through the loyalty app, the digital menu board can confirm the order automatically. Loyalty data can be further leveraged by AI to create personalized offers based on purchase history.
How an integrated digital menu board can work for you
While there are different digital menu board vendors in the marketplace, not all are the same. When evaluating various solutions, it’s important to consider adopting an integrated digital menu board platform that sets the right infrastructure in place to meet your needs now, while setting you up for easy future growth.
- Advanced features, functionalities – Select a digital menu board vendor that understands customer experience, not just displays. The DMB is the highest value sales tool your business has, and the right vendor will improve management efficiencies and lift sales. Make sure your DMB partner is constantly improving its technology and features, with options for integration and AI.
- Part of a holistic marketing strategy – As mentioned, digital menu boards are critical to omnichannel communications. Be sure your technology partner can integrate with loyalty applications.
- Edge processing – This recommendation is based on customer experience. When DMBs act as a simple display for a cloud application, performance is at the beck and call of Internet connectivity. Some customers might have incredible experiences, while others are forced to wait for seconds before the next screen successfully paints. These problems become worse and worse as DMBs become more sophisticated. So you want the media player to store and process content. This ensures millisecond responsiveness no matter what happens to your Internet connection.
- Technical management by the solution provider – Many QSR, businesses and brands are too busy dealing with the content, communications strategy etc. and may lack a dedicated technical team to manage the back-end. Partner with an integrated digital menu board solution provider who can focus on the technical side of running the deployment. So, at the end of the day, the business can focus on strategic initiatives while the provider optimizes the operations of the platform.
- Measuring results — When deploying integrated digital menu boards, you want to see what’s working and what’s not. Partner with a solution provider that can ingest and analyze customer data points, your internal sales information, app (if applicable) information and other critical data. Then, armed with data insights, your business can take the tactical steps to adjust and scale accordingly.
The future of integrated digital menu boards
Digital menu board technology is still advancing as the dynamics and needs of QSR and businesses evolve. An example of the evolution of DMBs centers around parking lot activation where sensors can indicate when a customer has pulled up to the business, thus alerting the staff where to drop off their order, etc. Improvements in AI can augment customer customization and engagement by increasing automation, predictive analytics etc. However, there will always be the human element to oversee and manage the AI deployment. Either way, it will be exciting to see how businesses can leverage integrated digital menu boards, along with a holistic, omni-channel marketing strategy, to tap into more benefits and opportunities today and in the future.
Learn how STRATACACHE helps businesses like yours with integrated, innovative digital menu board solutions.
Read the “Evolution of QSR” white paper for more insights!