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Tapping into Digital Technology on Restaurant Menus

Tapping into Digital Technology on Restaurant Menus

When you think of a restaurant menu, what do you picture? Perhaps you envision chalkboard on the wall noting the day’s fresh catch? Or maybe a plastic covered tri-fold menu handed out upon arrival?

According to a recent study, the global market for digital signage is increasing. Money spent on digital signage is projected to nearly triple from 2010 to 2016.1  Digital menus—from large menu boards to hand-held tablet devices—are making their way into all kinds of restaurants, with the promise of communicating to customers more effectively and subsequently improving sales. 

Digital Signage That Sells
More and more restaurants are beginning to implement digital menu boards and signage into their establishments. Digital signage can be applied to interior menu boards, promotional boards, outdoor menu boards for drive-through displays and point-of-purchase displays via LED flat screens, computer monitors or television. 

Enticing visuals
In 2011, McDonald’s launched the largest and most advanced digital media project in quick service restaurant history. The chain updated more than 12,600 stores around the world digital video to better showcase their McCafé line of coffee beverages. The project featured compelling video, mesmerizing animation, and the ability to change the message, price or product whenever needed.

Promotional flexibility
Dairy Queen began implementing digital menu messaging because it offered the flexibility and capacity to promote over 47 different menu types. The result showed that in most cases, items featured on digital signage boards increased in sales from year to year.2 

Improved sales
Digital menus can play an especially important role in improving sales in this, the digital age of communication. Wendy’s restaurants have also seen sales improve by 12 to 13 percent in restaurants with digital signage in comparison to those with traditional signage.3 

Tablet Menus for the Table
While digital menu boards and signage have been helpful in quick serve restaurants, digital tablet menus work especially well for sit-down restaurants. These items are useful for many of the same reasons mentioned above, but the concept of handheld or tableside technology can make more sense in a fine dining or sit-down restaurant.

Many customers are already accustomed to using iPads and other handheld devices in their everyday lives. 

Exciting Interactivity
When restaurateurs can come up with creative, attractive graphic design and then place it in the customers’ hands to explore, the dining experience becomes more interactive. Customers may even be able to offer comments or input marketing data on the spot, yet without feeling pressured. Interactivity can make the customer feel more involved during the dining process, and may even improve loyalty.

Inherent Customer Readiness
It used to be that restaurant employees took all the responsibility when it came to describing the menu, taking the order and accepting payment. Handing a customer an iPad along with his cocktail—and effectively giving them the control—sounds like a risk. Still, the customer is ready and waiting for this kind of technology. The best part about digital menus is that customers are already aware of how to use them, eliminating the learning curve and, in many cases, playing to tech-savvy preference. 

Improved Communication
Wired magazine suggests that placing iPads in the hands of customers is the best new way to promote restaurant marketing and menu communication. The trend is most often seen in forward-thinking fine dining restaurants.4   These types of menus are designed to improve internal menu communication in ways like these:
  • Better visibility. Tablets are bright, with clean design and manual zooming abilities, excellent for dimly lit dining rooms or anyone with poor eyesight. 
  • Searchable. The menu is scrollable and searchable, making it easy to look for particular items. This is especially useful for a menu with a lengthy wine list.
  • Easy alterations. When the restaurant runs out of a daily special or wants to update a certain item, the digital process can make this look nicer, cut down on printing costs, and eliminate disappointment when something is sold out. 
Digital signage is making a welcome entrance in many stores. Digital menus reduce printing costs, paper trash, and the labor needed to manually change out promotional posters or menu items on a frequent basis. Above all, they add to the customer experience and in many cases, improve overall sales.

1 "Digital Signage: It's All Around Us." Digital Signage Today.      http://www.digitalsignagetoday.com/infographic.php?id=1  Accessed August, 2012.
2 Liddle, Alan J. "How Digital Menu Boards Drive Sales."(page 1) Nation's Restaurant News. http://nrn.com/article/how-digital-menu-boards-drive-restaurant-sales#ixzz24gkgLGXc Accessed August, 2012. 
Liddle, Alan J. "How Digital Menu Boards Drive Sales." (page 5) Nation's Restaurant News.  http://nrn.com/article/how-digital-menu-boards-drive-restaurant-sales?page=0,1  Accessed August, 2012.
4 Carmody, Tom. "Your Restaurant's Next Menu is an Ipad." Wired. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/09/your-restaurants-next-menu-is-an-ipad/ Accessed August, 2012.