Digitally Delicious

Retailers adopt digital menu signage, letting them adjust price, menu items and more on the fly.

Abbey Lewis, Editor in Chief, CSProducts

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Call it a happy accident. A fluke. A stroke of genuine good luck.

But when the company that Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes had been working with on its digital signage and promotions went out of business five years ago, thus leaving the upstate New York chain with blank displays at 23 of its stores, the retailer thought about removing them altogether.

Instead of incurring costs as high as $400 per site for removal, however, Michael MacDougall, head of IT for the Canastota, N.Y.-based operator, thought to repurpose the displays. He wrote a program that tied all displays to a central hub—and, just like that, all foodservice-equipped locations were set up with vibrant, colorful, flexible digital menu boards.

“It took me a couple months, and we got everything in place and we just let it run,” he says. “We turned lemons into lemonade on that one.”

If you’re still relying on static menu boards, look up: Digital is dotting the landscape of QSRs and, increasingly, the c-store arena. And in an era of Xbox, Wii and other interactive platforms, digital menus create an on-the-go perception that underscores most retailers’ foodservice offerings.

Content, often delivered via a central operations hub, is displayed on the menu in real time and can be shown across many stores. Most retailers use the boards for menu items and pricing, while others cycle through different screens, touting daily specials and other promotions. In short, they’re used for information, including calorie counts and portion sizes, and marketing and loyalty initiatives.

Such flexibility excites Scott Zaremba, owner and operator of eight-store Zarco USA Inc., Lawrence, Kan. “It allows us to change and modify our menu on the fly. We’re changing all the time,” he says. “We’re adding products and we’re doing things differently all the time. With the video screens, we’re also showing our products that we’re updating and changing all the time.” For example, Zaremba says the stores just added a new cheese to submarine sandwich options.

In addition to the traditional benefits, digital boards are ideal for promoting limited time offers (LTOs) and helping to drive traffic, according to Richard Ventura, director of sales, vertical solutions, for Itasca, Ill.-based NEC Display Solutions. Integration of mobile and social media with the menu boards is also driving new strategies within QSRs and convenience stores, Ventura says. For example, displaying approved tweets on a scroll at the bottom of a message board could help steer a customer toward higher-margin items, or other LTOs.

Making It Work

A quick Google search for “digital menu board” brings up pages full of potential suppliers, replete with product offerings for every possible scenario. Nevertheless, many operators prefer to control digital operations. “I can buy all the monitors for what it costs to print one menu setup. Right now, we have five screens that are together,” Zaremba says. “We figured out how to mount them easily. We’ve created all our own graphics. We were able to do that extremely cost-effectively.”

“Different companies came to us in the past and told us they could do it for us in a Web portal,” says MacDougall of Nice N Easy. “They were all very expensive. So we did it in-house. I developed a little program routine that all our displays check hourly to see if there’s an update—and if there is, it throws it up there.”


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