Menu Boards: Would You Like A Side Of FUD With That?

April 30, 2013 by Dave Haynes


Pretty much anyone I talk to, who would know, says the digital menu board market is booming. Fast food and fast casual restaurant operators “get” the business proposition that the collective platform pay for itself in efficiency and flexibility and sales promotion lifts.

Companies like McDonald’s, Burger King and Tim Horton’s haven’t invested millions in digital boards because they look prettier. The numbers worked.

So it’s a mystery why software companies scrapping it out for contracts in the U.S. continue to cite FDA nutrition requirements as a big reason why restaurant chains and their franchisees need to go digital.

The whole government-will-require-operators to show nutritional details thing is NOT looming. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) produced a guideline in 2010, but there was no enforcement mechanism. Compliance was voluntary.

Then the draft guidance was withdrawn, more than two years ago, and any new stipulations are indefinitely delayed.

From an Associated Press report just a few weeks ago:

Writing a new menu labeling law “has gotten extremely thorny,” says the head of the Food and Drug Administration, as the agency tries to figure out who should be covered by it.

The 2010 health care law charged the FDA with requiring chain restaurants and other establishments that serve food to put calorie counts on menus and in vending machines. The agency issued a proposed rule in 2011, but the final rules have since been delayed as some of those non-restaurant establishments have lobbied hard to be exempt.

While the restaurant industry has signed on to the idea and helped to write the new regulations, supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers that sell prepared food say they want no part of it.

“There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Hamburg said menu labeling has turned out to be one of the FDA’s most challenging issues, and while requiring calorie counts in some establishments might make sense on paper, “in practice it really would be very hard.” She did not say what specific types of establishments she was referring to.

But a scan around websites and “thought leadership” pieces suggests there are still lotsa people in the digital signage industry serving up a nice plate of FUD to try to get deals over the line.

It’s inaccurate and not needed to win a deal. Make the case that your solution can run reliably and deliver a return. The menu label thing is an attempt to  scare people who are going to know better than you what regulatory rules are really in place or coming. What makes more sense is the simple assurance that digital makes adjustments to menu labelling – however and whenever that plays out – dead simple.

Of course, then there’s the separate question of whether they even work.

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