Quick Serve Restaurants and Digital Signage

Alan Brawn, Principal
Brawn Consulting

If this topic looks like déjà vu… you would not be wrong. I wrote about this topic exactly one year ago today. Of course, this begs the question as to what has changed in the last 12 months. Well… the answer, from a pure technology point of view, is not much.   We still see LCD flat panels dominate the display landscape, with some indoor and a lot of outdoor direct view LED coming onto the scene. Interactive kiosks for self-service are rapidly expanding, and beacon technologies are gaining acceptance. So… why the article? The answer is to understand the rationale and customer dynamics behind the technologies, and how a solid digital signage plan should guide a forward-thinking company, accelerate their growth, and help achieve their goals.

Ultimately all digital signage boils down to promoting, enhancing, and facilitating communication, whenever and wherever a viewer might be (and do so in the most effective manner). To reference the classic film “Cool Hand Luke”, the most iconic scene was where the great character actor Strother Martin, playing the chain gang guard, stood above a newly dug pit and with shotgun in hand as he smiled down on the ever-rebellious Luke and said, “What we have here is a failure to communicate”. What happened next was not very pretty, at least for Luke. In a myriad of ways this is a challenge many businesses, especially QSRs, have today. If they fail to communicate properly, some not so pretty things will result. At its core, digital signage is all about consistent and effective communication. It is at its best if this is done to enhance the experience and make that memorable and repeatable.

A few years ago, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote the visionary book, the Experience Economy. In the Harvard Business Review, the authors note that “Economists have typically lumped experiences in with services, but experiences are a distinct economic offering, as different from services as services are from goods. Today we can identify and describe this fourth economic offering because consumers unquestionably desire experiences, and more and more businesses are responding by explicitly designing and promoting them.” The authors write that “Those businesses that relegate themselves to the diminishing world of goods and services will be rendered irrelevant. To avoid this fate, you must learn to stage a rich, compelling experience.” In short, it is no longer about products or services alone, but it is the experience that brings people to the point of making a purchase… and just as importantly, coming back again. Digital signage can and should enhance the experience and act as a behavior modification tool.  

The key to the experience is recall, and not simply impression. An impression is noticing a sign or a display, where recall means that impression is remembered. By designing technologies (and what they provide) to fit into the experience expectations of consumers, the result will be positive in nature. If ignored or not done effectively, count that as one lost opportunity. Research shows that >70% of the American population sees digital signage in one form or another each day. According to a recent PJSC Study and Recall Comparison Analysis, it shows that print has a recall range of 9% to 52% (with outdoor slightly higher), TV is 22% to 62% and digital signage is the big winner at 47% to 82%. Even the most math averse among us will agree of the efficacy that digital signage can bring to the table.

Speaking of the bringing things to the table (bad pun!), let’s turn our attention to one of the most robust sub-sections, quick serve restaurants (QSR). With retail in general mired down in an existential battle with ordering online (Amazon, Walmart, etc.), it is the QSR creating that personal relationship with a consumer and their food selection at their favorite eating emporium, that is most interesting.  Keep in mind that the common denominator between buying via the internet and getting quick service at a restaurant is convenience and value. Quality should always be a given and never ignored.

Just how significant is the quick serve restaurant in the scheme of consumer business? According to the QSR industry, the global quick service restaurants market is expected to surpass $141 billion in revenue by 2019 and the Americas is 44% of that.  Insiders note that the average American consumes fast food (sorry about that name) approximately 14 times over a period of 30 days, thereby making the QSR market potentially one of the most profitable markets to invest in. I say potentially because there is no one formula. Remember is about creating value, convenience and the experience that will be recalled by the consumer.

In my article last year, I spoke about the need to stand out and differentiate each QSR. It no longer limited to one hamburger place versus another, rather about a multitude of QSRs in a general area. The choices are immense in many cases. Traveling down the street is almost like having a smorgasbord of selections to choose from and each company must lure customers into their unique experience.

The experience begins outside while the consumer is driving down the street. We are seeing rapid growth in direct view LED screens and while many areas do not allow full motion video outside, the content on the screen needs to be enticing and appetizing.   One somewhat surprising statistic is that QSRs regularly see 60–70 percent of their business come through the outdoor or drive-thru lane. Remember the overriding concept of convenience. A digital signage network at the drive thru can serve multiple functions at once, for instance:

  • From the comfort of the car, a QSR can expose a consumer to brand new menu items that you had not intended to buy. Can we all say up-sell and profit?
  • The audience for your brand of business theater is captured inside the car so there is no better place to run current promotions.
  • The menus can be designed to taut your best-selling items and save the consumer and the staff precious time.
  • If designed properly this reduces wait times and promotes return business

Fast food joints are cashing in on drive thru digital signage because of its ability to attract customers, speed up the drive thru lane and yes, improve the customer experience.

A good percentage of the experience does take place at the drive-thru but that leaves those who like to walk inside the opportunity to be impressed. Great QSRs take advantage of this. One of the benefits of being inside is having more time to choose without the car behind you getting impatient. Oh, that never happens, right? You just hang back from the order line and select what you want. This is a perfect chance to look at the digital menu board, check the calories and nutritional values and in more progressive QSRs, see secondary screens with videos that make you salivate in anticipation of ordering. Many QSRs are incorporating point of sales (POS) kiosks. With touch part of the lives of every cell phone user, interactive kiosks can provide a personalized experience to suit their taste. Drop down menus, promotional tabs, and loyalty programs are the friends of a QSR.   Speaking of cell phones, mobile connectivity and beacons extend the message from the QSR to your phone.

We live in an age of competition for consumer’s attention, time, and mindshare. For a QSR to stand out it is not enough to only have tasty food, understanding that quality food is the price of entry to be sure. It is now necessary to go beyond and create that full experience. It is beyond customer service and goes all the way to customer engagement. The digital signage technologies are the tools to make this happen. The successful companies will grab this brass ring of opportunity. Some say it is too expensive but data shows that the return on the invest is typically 9 to 18 months. Most would agree that this is a solid investment in the future success of your QSR.

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