Quick Serve Restaurants and Digital Signage–The Requirements Are Changing

By Alan C. Brawn CTS, DSCE, DSDE, DSNE, DCME, ISF-C

Alan Brawn, Principal Brawn Consulting

Alan Brawn, Principal
Brawn Consulting

To say the very least it is an interesting time in the world of what we used to call fast food but now the more politically correct, quick serve restaurant industry. To quote Charles Dickens in his Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Perhaps with less drama but this can be said about the current conditions in quick serve restaurants. Of course I will explain.

From the “worst of times” perspective, the QSR industry has been in a sort of malaise of late with a few notable exceptions being companies like Chipotle, Panera, and some of the boutique burger chains like Five Guys and Smash Burger. To support our claim of less than exciting performance, we can use McDonalds as a key example that might be applied to many. The new CEO of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, was featured in a recent CNN Money article where he admitted that they are combating lower sales, decreased profits, and their stock has taken a hit. He unveiled a turnaround plan for the struggling fast food giant during a news conference the first week of May. And he did not mince words when discussing the company’s problems. To address their problems, McDonald’s is reorganizing its international operations and plans to franchise more of its restaurants. According to Easterbrook, “McDonald’s hopes to save $300 million annually by the end of 2017 thanks to all the restructuring and plans to be more disciplined about spending.”

Lest we roll our eyes and consider him a traditional “bean counter”, not so fast. Look a little deeper and ponder on what he said that could become the “best of times” for McDonald’s and others who make the paradigm shift to innovate. According to Easterbrook, what he really wants to change is “the quality of the food and stale brand image”. Easterbrook stressed that McDonald’s has to innovate more and not just on the food side of the business. He spoke about returning “excitement” to the brand and used the phrase “modern, progressive burger company” several times to describe the image McDonald’s wants to convey.

Beyond the menu items, which he admits will drive the success of the company from the customer’s perspective, he speaks of the entire customer experience and this is where digital signage of all forms comes into focus. Easterbrook said “McDonald’s may also soon feature mobile ordering, self-order kiosks or other types of technology so customers won’t just be forced to go to the counter or drive-through window.” From this writer’s perspective, he gets it right when he says that “we are adding choice, whether it’s on service or the menu for our customers.”

27 PHOTO VDS Food Court 1The buying public gravitates towards ease of use and the availability of choices and there is no better way in a QSR environment to make those choices known than through digital signage technologies. What makes this type of environment so interesting is the ability to incorporate so many different types of digital signage technologies and of course effective content material.

To the first order, digital signage advocates are excited about digital menu boards which are becoming the center piece of many QSRs. This is due in no small part to the new FDA federal law mandating that clear and consistent nutrition information be made available on chain restaurants with 20 or more locations under the same name and displayed in a direct and accessible manner for the foods customers eat and buy for their families. Covered establishments will need to list calorie information for standard menu items on menus and menu boards and a succinct statement about suggested daily caloric intake. Other nutrient information—total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat,

cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein—will have to be made available in writing on request. Doing this in a digital signage format is a slam dunk and this leads the march to acceptance of other dynamic mediums and tools.

As Easterbrook correctly points out, the total experience must be fresh and more exciting. Beyond the dynamic menu boards themselves, if you can make the ordering process easier without becoming intimidating to those who may be technologically challenged, that is a big plus. With incorporation of self-service ordering you can decentralize the wait lines spread over more open spaces and reduce wait times as well, improving the overall customer experience. This can be done at interactive self-serve kiosks and can also be ported over to tablets or fixed displays located at the tables and even extend to smart phone accessibility.

The potential offered by digital signage in all its physical forms goes far beyond indoor digital menu boards behind and above the counter and extends to:

  • Promotion boards throughout the store
  • Interactive self-serve kiosks
  • Order confirmation screens
  • Table display devices
  • Smart phones
  • Entertainment displays (static and interactive)
  • Drive-through menu and ordering boards
  • Outdoor marquees – on site and nearby

At their best these screens are carefully designed and located to improve the overall experience for the most people possible in all stages of the ordering and eating experience and become a behavior modification tool while being unobtrusive to the casual observer. Digital signage technologies can bring attention to changes in the menu, options, higher margin items, selling add-ons, and yes, display required nutritional content to mention the most obvious. All of this and more can be changed at a moment’s notice to maintain interest and if properly designed, can also help speed decision making and keep lines moving along quickly.

Digital Menu BoardMany will argue that digital signed in QSRs is all about increased revenues and brand mind-share expansion and in a limited since it is but his begs the question of how to get there. Ultimately it is really about customer engagement and the likelihood of their returning over and over again. In short, it is repeat business that drives revenues. The visionaries in QSR digital signage are looking at all the technology tools at their disposal along with creative content creation and proper refresh of same and exploring the ways in which well-designed digital menu boards and other digital signage through the venue can enhance the overall customer experience with a focus on service and, ultimately, bringing customers back through the door time and time again.

It boils down to efficiency in a QSR and there is limited time to make and keep that impression. According to industry research, digital menu board optimization shows sale increases as high as 10% for key products. It is also claimed that “74% of customers say that an easy-to-read menu board is their top priority.” These statistics serve to assert that the answer to menu board optimization is to incorporate dynamic digital signage. Take these estimates and go beyond the

digital menu board to the kiosk, the table and tablet, the smart phone, and even outdoors. You do the math but it adds up to me.

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