As digital menu boards become more prevalent, the question as to their value, efficacy, and ability to deliver an acceptable return-on-investment consistently echoes through the halls of a restaurant’s corporate offices. Many technology providers, integrators, and other pundits would have you believe that digital menu boards will save your business while others simply dismiss them as expensive luxury. In our transforming digital world, it’s imperative to understand the intersection of the consumer journey and a brand. In order to determine whether digital menu boards are appropriate for your business, real-world experience and data shows that you should consider the following recommendations.

  • Identify your strategy with respect to your customer’s journey/experience 3–5 years from today. The shopping journey has been seismically shifting and transforming under the influence of digital technologies. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods obliterated the lines of demarcation between foodservice, grocery, and retail. The traditionally accepted and expected customer experience in a restaurant is continually being transformed by digital technologies and mobile smart devices. Digital Menu Boards are just one application in the new landscape. It is imperative to take the time to identify and define why and how digital will (and can) influence the entire restaurant customer journey and their experience—before, during, and after the store visit. Once identified, digitally empowered shoppers expect these experiences to be seamlessly woven into a localized and personalized journey. “Click & Collect,” loyalty programs, geolocation marketing, mobile, drive-thru, ordering kiosks, music, along with operational issues associated with connected devices-all become part of the digital workflow and experiential ecosystem. All of these will influence and define your customer’s expectations and hence a brand’s success.
  • Become clear on your menu and local store strategy. Every restaurant location and the surrounding community it serves are unique. Are there schools nearby, sports fields, urban or suburbs, industrial park, transportation stations? All of these local community attributes will help create uniquely local menu dayparts as well as featured items and/or categories. Focusing on menu item placement, based on how consumers shop your boards, combined with food costs will also increase profits. While this may sound complex and challenging—it is important to keep in mind that all content—your menu items, pricing, specials, etc. need to be data driven. If you don’t have the data and an understanding of your localized community, you will never derive the full benefit and potential of any digital technology. More importantly, neither will your customer.
  • Design and optimize your content strategy. The efficacy, and hence commercial value, of a Digital Menu Board (DMB) is directly linked to the correct, optimized content, and its presentation. Human viewing behavior is a complex science. Understanding this neuroscience, its behavioral effects, nuances, subtleties, and the environment in which they are presented and then integrating those into the menu board content design and presentation have profound and significant influence on commercial results. Menu board design and content that is not specifically designed and optimized for this unique medium is far less effective. Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it’s effective.
  • Implement a measurement campaign. You cannot make a sound business decision without credible data and quantitative evidence. Period. Implementing digital menu boards is an expensive proposition, fraught with complexity, and operational challenges. They must be managed and optimized as a measured medium. A brand spends countless hours testing food before putting it on the menu. The same discipline should be applied to DMBs. It is imperative to implement a measurement, analysis and optimization campaign anchored by a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that is universally accepted within your organization. For the majority of implementations, the core question is some variation of “… will/did digital menu boards help us sell more stuff?” This KPI is found in the point-of-sale (POS) data. Implementing a holistic measurement and experiment campaign that is designed, activated and administered by an independent, unbiased, and experienced resource will ensure the results and recommendations have your best interests at the fore.
  • Identify and understand your required return-on-investment (ROI). The true potential of digital menu boards is not in the displays themselves but in their ability to enable data driven content and all of the associated workflows in a digitally enabled system. The primary objective is to enable and enhance speed-of-service while making it easier for your customer to experience your brand, your service, and your food. There are many moving parts, all with hidden costs, in a digital menu board system and if you don’t optimize all of those interdependencies you will never achieve the full potential and optimal ROI. DMBs cannot be viewed as one-dimensional, stand-alone entities. Their true ROI and benefit are realized when they are seamlessly integrated into a broader customer-centric ecosystem.
  • Do not select or purchase any technology without a knowledgeable, trusted adviser. Digital menu boards (signage) were “invented” by technologists to solve a problem that wasn’t perceived to exist. All too often vendors, integrators, and service providers of digital signage systems over simplify and hide the complexity of these systems from their clients. Conversely, clients often don’t know enough to truly vet and select the most appropriate solution. In short, most digital menu board customers are paying too much for the solutions and services they are getting. When you have determined—through measurement and quantitative evidence, that digital menu boards can benefit your customers and your business make certain you secure a trusted and knowledgeable resource to guide you through the selection and purchasing process. Our experience has proven that this to be invaluable—you will save money.

Digital Menu Boards (DMBs) and their derivatives in a foodservice environment can be an incredibly effective sales, marketing, and merchandising communication tool if they are measured, optimized, and integrated into a broader digital customer experience and brand strategy. Conversely, they are an expensive luxury if they are simply viewed as a one-dimensional tactical ‘thing’ and the content presented is not measured and dynamically optimized. Just like any other business strategy that requires investment in both time and treasure—digital menu boards are a measured medium and as such may provide an acceptable ROI. The technology is only valuable and valued if it is enabling a more holistic customer journey and brand experience. Make certain you strategize, test, measure, analyze, and optimize your digital menu board initiative before you commit to the technology.

Adrian Weidmann ( has been involved in the broader digital signage industry for 21 years. His consulting practice, StoreStream Metrics has focused on measurement, analytics, digital content and workflow optimization. Clients include Dairy Queen, Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, and Lowe’s. His book- Lighting Up the Aisle, Principles and Practices for In-Store Digital Media, remains the only existing resource on how and why retail brands can harness emerging technologies to transform their in-store experiences.
Outside Insights, Story