How Digital Menu Boards Can Help You

June 30, 2015 by guest author, Debbie DeWitt


Guest Post: Freddie Laker, Kairos

Stand at the counter in any fast food restaurant or cafe. Somewhere up in front of you there will be a menu displayed. In some places, it might be very amateurish, maybe even handwritten.

More often, there will be sign-written boards. Usually these are drab, tedious, and functional. They list what is available to purchase and what these items cost – in the worst cases, they simply cross old prices out and have new prices scrawled beside the old.

Is this really marketing? What kind of image does this give the hungry customer?

Restaurants with larger budgets often use backlit displays, so their signage has a more professional look. They at least replace the physical signs every so often, to promote new menu items or when they change their prices. But it is still boring marketing. The signs are totally static, and have no dynamism.

However, the humble menu board has now moved with the times. There are now digital menu boards that offer exciting new opportunities to target customers and they are adaptable to meet your needs.

What are digital menu boards?

They are electronic menu screens that provide information to the consumer, which a restaurant operator can easily update, even from home if necessary. As well as listing the food menu electronically, they can show any other messages the operator wants to display. They can be altered to display a list of foods available at any particular time (for instance it only takes a flick of a switch to change from displaying a breakfast menu to a lunch menu).

How Can Digital Menu Boards Be Used for Marketing?

Restaurants using digital menu boards can combine product promotion with full-motion video and rapidly changing content.

The boards generally use smart TVs for their display, making them adjustable, bright menus capable of changing at the blink of an eyelid.

Restaurant operators can update prices and menu items remotely, seamlessly adding or removing items from the menu. With the boards being colorful and attractive, customers take notice. This eliminates printing costs, and allows for quick and easy adaptation to any situation.

The boards usually work with electronic POS systems, meaning that restaurateurs can incorporate such things as automatic product pricing updates, only having to alter the data in one place.

You can combine digital menu boards with point-of-sale and inventory information, and easily promote high-margin dishes or run short-term specials on promotion or overstocked items. You can ensure that you only show what is in stock (removing any product from the menu display if it sells out).

You can dynamically target your displayed content to customers at the most advantageous times, altering the focus of what is displayed to match those customers there at any particular moment in time.

The operator can remotely monitor and modify the display depending on what is happening in-store, e.g. you can easily set custom messages to display at particular points of time.

You could further automate and accelerate the food ordering process by connecting interactive kiosks with digital menu boards possibly reducing your personnel costs.

Imagine Using Facial Detection With Digital Menu Boards

Digital menu boards themselves are an exciting advancement in point of sale marketing. However, you can go further, and ramp your marketing effort to an even higher level of digital intelligence.

Suppose you have your digital menu board equipped with a camera which counts the number of people nearby. With this, you can measure potential exposure. You could also look at demographics by gathering information about the age and gender of people looking at the sign.

Even better, you could modify the menus displayed to highlight those items most suited to the people physically in front of the screen at any moment in time.

Similarly, you could gather data about the age and gender of individuals who look at particular ads incorporated into your digital menu board. How long do particular ad holds their attention?

With multiple cameras integrated into digital menu boards positioned in different places, you could easily determine where your customers’ eyes actually focus. At which boards do the customers place most of their attention? Exactly where do the customers look? Armed with that information, you could decide how to best allocate your limited screen real estate.

What Useful Analytics Do These Boards Provide?

A restaurateur could segment a day into as many sections as they choose, observing and using analytics to increase the effectiveness of their content. They may find that the restrictive hours they allow for for breakfast serving do not match the customers’ wishes. The analytics may suggest that there is sufficient demand for breakfast dishes outside of those set times?

The analytics could provide you with evidence as to the precise times that particular menu items are popular with people. For instance, customers may focus on quick-eating items at lunchtime, and then change to salads and healthy items in the early afternoon. There might be a peak in demand for snacks and high energy items straight after school. If your analytics gives you this data, you can adjust your menus to focus on the high-interest products at their most popular times.

Facial detection software could help to determine the best location for maximum audience exposure. It could provide consumer demographics, segmented by the time of day or day of the week, the gender and age of the customers. It could even gauge customer reaction to changing displays. The menus displayed to customers at any moment in time would reflect the people present, and would provide upsells targeted to these particular people.

For the ads on the displays, you could analyze factors such as dwell time (the amount of time people linger near an ad), the number of people who stop to look at the display, and the length of time they spend looking at the ad. These analytics let advertisers know how well their ad is working, whether it is eye-catching and targeted enough.

In the case of regulars, you can tailor the menu you present to them (this has real potential for drive-throughs). You can focus on the products that these customers have ordered in the past. This works well when you have set up loyalty plans. You can use cameras and smartphones, or even other forms of known customer ID, such as RFID connectors on number plates.

Time can be saved when you display pictures of actual menu items ordered at the drive-through. This makes it clearer to the customer that you have correctly taken their order and confirmation can happen more rapidly. Providing images of upsell items is known to pique the interest of targeted customers, and is likely to maximize their order value.

What Could Digital Menu Board Analytics Do For Me?

If your firm is looking at the marketing possibilities of digital menu boards you need to first determine your primary objective before you spend any money on new technology. Don’t just introduce new technology for the sake of being seen as high-tech. You need a good reason for making that choice. Look at the return on your firm’s objectives, rather than simply a return on investment. Do you aim to use these boards to increase sales, to increase the average spending by each customer (as they see products targeted at them appear on the menu board), to reduce wait times, or perhaps some different goal?

A good place to begin would be by measuring the impact of introducing digital menu boards, conducting basic tests by comparing one restaurant outfitted with such boards with another using static menu boards. Promote a set range of menu items on the digital menu board over a number of weeks, and then compare sales figure trends between the two stores. Look closely for any obvious differences.

Next, add in digital cameras. Look at the analytics produced. Now you could run a variety of promotional content ideas to evaluate the effectiveness of each one over the others. Do a series of A/B tests.

Examine the effects of external factors – for instance the weather, the day of the week or the time of day. Managers can utilise live data feeds to adjust marketing messages in real time, trying to modify customer decisions, boost sales figures and reduce waste.

Digital menu boards regularly provide a far better return, than static unchanging boards. This is because the content is intelligent, taking into consideration the immediate environment and influencing the target customer. If, for example, the data illustrates that greater purchase numbers occur for a particular dessert or side dish when promoted beside a main dinner menu item, you could apply variations on the promotion more often to increase overall order value.

What are the Limitations?

In the past, restaurant managers tried to use up every square inch of their board (because they felt they had paid for it). Yet it is possible to display too much information on a digital menu board. As with any other display, clarity is important. Blank space helps attracts the eye as much as content does. You want to get customers through the order process as quickly as possible, and you don’t want them getting bogged down because screens are too information-centric. The content displayed needs to be impactful and meaningful.

There are a number of technical limitations with facial detection – it is still a young technology. In variable lighting, particularly in outdoor settings, such as at a drive-through, there can be difficulties picking up accurate results.

Most firms who provide this technology set relatively broad tiers of age groups. This would affect the age-based analysis for fast food restaurants who focus on children and teenagers. A four-year-old’s tastes are very different from a nine-year-old’s, but they are shown as being in the same age grouping by most companies’ software. Most software is not yet designed to identify race or ethnicity, despite the fact that this information could have great use for marketing purposes.

Obviously, facial-detection software only categorizes consumers based on their outward appearance. It relies on general assumptions, rather than actual information unique to particular people. It is not going to know if a particular customer is vegetarian, for instance.


Marketers can finally receive feedback from out-of-home advertising. They can use this feedback to tailor menu board messages based on the individuals actually looking at the boards – both by emphasizing particular items highlighted in the menu, and by targeting other ads or messages.

This type of software collects unbiased demographic data. The results collated are generally more accurate than comparative data found using such methods as surveys, which rely on the truthfulness and accuracy of those people who fill them out.

People who look at a menu board have usually already made the decision to eat at a particular restaurant. Therefore, there is a higher likelihood that someone looking at a digital menu board is taking a serious interest, than there is for most other types of digital signage. The purpose of a board that integrates facial detection and cameras is clearly to increase the spending of those people who are already there. It aims to ensure that as many customers as possible see items on the menu that they actually like, encouraging them to spend more than they otherwise would have.

Interactive digital menu boards provide exciting possibilities to restaurant owners and their marketers, particularly in relation to targeted upselling.

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