Pull up to the Taco John’s on South Greeley Highway in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and you’ll enter a frontier of technology exploration for quick-service restaurants. Since July, Taco John’s and Panasonic have been testing a new outdoor digital menuboard in a drive-thru lane at the Mexican fast-food restaurant.
"It makes the guest experience more consistent, even down to the numbering of menu options. The digital board looks nice. It’s crisp. We see a number of potential benefits," says Shawn Eby, vice president for operations at Taco John’s. “The efficiencies would also extend to labor costs. Digital boards are easier and quicker to maintain. One person can remotely update multiple locations.”
The companies are also testing a digital menuboard located inside a Taco John’s in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Panasonic monitors the performance of both boards from a network operations center (NOC) located in Ohio. Technicians provide remote diagnostics and troubleshooting, along with remote rebooting and repair capabilities.
“The [quick serve] market is fiercely competitive. For this reason, it’s critical that restaurants incorporate reliable, durable technology solutions that help operators provide the highest level of service while also driving repeat business, both in-store and in the drive thru,” says Rick Albert, VP of retail and media solutions for Panasonic. “With its digital menuboard pilot, Taco John’s demonstrates its dedication to creating greater operational efficiencies, boosting sales, and enhancing the overall customer experience.”
To deliver on that promise, the digital boards, especially the one located in the drive thru, will have to withstand rigorous testing —not just from customers and restaurant employees—but also from Wyoming’s weather.
"It has to withstand direct sunlight, strong winds, extreme temperatures, rain, and snow," Eby says. “Panasonic is monitoring all of these things. We want to see how well it can hold up.”
According to Panasonic, the test conditions at the Taco John’s in Cheyenne are made to order. The company says the 47-inch Professional LCD Display brings 1,000 cd/m2 of brightness, IP44-level dust and water resistance, and a reputation for operating efficiently in harsh conditions.
Eby expects testing of the outdoor digital display will continue for several more months, providing opportunities to see if it performs as well in the winter months as it did during the summer.