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Choosing a Digital Menu Board: A 2017 Buying Guide

Dawn Kuczwara
Dawn Kuczwara

Digital menus can help your customers stay engaged and reduce the perceived wait times.

Restaurant owners, regardless of restaurant type, share a common goal – to make customers happy while keeping costs low. Sometimes it seems like the two pieces of this goal are at odds with one another. Do something to save money, the customer experience suffers. Create a better customer experience, your bottom line suffers.

One solution to this dilemma is the use of digital menu boards. These digital displays of your menu items can help keep your customers engaged and reduce perceived wait times while also saving you money.

Take a look at a few of the benefits digital menu boards provide.

  • Consistency: Changes to the boards can be made remotely and even automatically, making switching dayparts easy and error-free.
  • Reactivity: Overstocked on one item, or running out of another? It's easy to change the menu to help with inventory management.
  • Cost savings: No more printing menus or static backlit boards, and no more waiting on reprints because of a proofing mistake.
  • Customer engagement: Digital menu boards provide the options of full-motion video and promotional areas, giving customers something to catch their attention while waiting in line. Simple engagement tactics – such as trivia questions – can occupy customers, making perceived wait times shorter. 

The equipment needed to successfully implement a digital menu board system may be less than you'd think. The following three systems are the main components you'll need.

Digital display

Obviously, one of the components you'll need is the digital displays for your menu. Choosing the right monitors will ensure that they can stand up to the use expected of them, handle the conditions in a restaurant and meet your needs.

Don't be tempted to buy consumer-grade monitors. While they may seem cheaper, there are a number of reasons why they are a bad fit for commercial use.

To begin with, commercial monitors are meant to display things like signage and menus, so the resolution of the display is optimized for this purpose. Additionally, the components of a commercial-grade monitor are intended for the constant use they see in restaurant settings. Consumer monitors are only intended for use a few hours at a time, but the parts and design in a commercial-grade monitor are intended to operate 16 to 24 hours a day.

The kind of monitor you get is important too. While a plasma screen sounds cool, these devices have a tendency toward burn-in, which is when an image that was displayed on the monitor for a long time still appears ghosted on it, even after the image has been changed or the device is turned off.

Instead, consider an LCD or LED monitor. Generally, LED monitors are better but more expensive. LCD monitors will perform well for those whose budget doesn't have room for LED options.

While you consider the kind of monitors you want, make sure you pay attention to size and the orientation of how they will be hung. Commercial monitors, unlike consumer-grade ones, are designed to hang horizontally or vertically.

Your monitors need to be large enough for your customers to see the menu text. Also, take into account where you'll place them. You should consider having a professional installer look at the menu board space to ensure that the monitors can be installed securely to avoid the risk of the boards falling or breaking.

Lastly, make sure that you can get power to where you'll need it. Consult with an electrician to determine if you have access to power where you'll mount the boards and that the power will be clean. Power spikes can cause monitors to flicker and even burn out.

Content management system

Your content management software for your menu should address the reasons you want to include a digital menu. Do you want to change your menu frequently, or have it automatically change based on time of day? Do you want animations? How design savvy are you? These are important questions to consider when evaluating the software.

Most content management systems for digital menus include a number of templates. These templates allow even the most design-challenged operators to have a visually appealing menu that is appropriate for their restaurant type and brand.

You'll want to evaluate the user experience of the software before you buy it. Is it easy for you to use and understand? Is there training included? Can you add multiple users to the account?

Scheduling is another important feature. Many restaurants change their menus depending on the time of day (dayparts), meals, even the demographic that visits an establishment at a specific time. Changing your menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner is fine, but if you're near a high school, for instance, you might also want to have an after-school menu that highlights snacks. Your software should allow you to schedule these menu changes so you don't need someone available each time.

If you're looking to add visual interest for customers, see if the system allows you to add your own videos and pictures and if there are promotional areas where you can highlight specials or news, like a new location opening or an upcoming offer.

Also, consider where the information will be hosted. If it's an on-premise solution, you'll need to have a server located on the property, and someone available to update the software and handle any server issues. If you opt for a cloud-based solution, make sure you have redundancy built into your system. You should be able to download the content for the day, for one. That way, if you or your vendor have a network issue, you won't be without a menu.

Ask the vendor about support as well. What happens if your system goes down, or if you can't figure out how to make a template work right? Will the vendor be there to help you? Will it charge you for additional support? Knowing what help is available upfront will prevent you from having your system down when you need it most.

Media player

Media players are the middlemen between your content management system and your digital menu boards. They are how you get your menu displayed up on your monitors. Choices range from small and inexpensive devices to moderately priced digital media devices.

Start by understanding what media players will work with your content management system. It doesn't matter how cost-effective your solution is if your software won't work with it.

Just like monitors, some media players are built to operate for long hours without burning out, while others are more price-conscious options that are easily replaced and allow you to save enough to have spare devices on hand.

Media players can be robust and fully dedicated digital signage devices able to accommodate the new 4K monitors, or simple, small media players like the Chromecast from Google and the Fire TV from Amazon. Just like with the monitors, be sure to evaluate these devices based on your intended use, with the added consideration of compatibility with your content management system.

Digital menu systems can save your establishment time and money while keeping your customers engaged and improving their experience. The cost of monitors, software and media players may seem prohibitive, but many restaurants see, on average, a 5 percent uplift in profits with the addition of a digital menu board. This sets the menu system up to pay for itself in only 12 months in many cases. Take the time to evaluate the digital menu components to ensure you purchase a system that will meet your needs and help you achieve your business goals.


Image Credit: Image from Scala/Shutterstock
Dawn Kuczwara
Dawn Kuczwara Contributing Writer
Dawn Kuczwara is a former executive with more than 17 years of experience in technology. Now, as a professional writer, Dawn uses that experience to write about business, technology and leadership. When she isn’t wordsmithing, she spends her time doing improv comedy, reading, playing video games and hanging out with her family and two dogs, Pip and Zoe.