How digital menu boards help drive restaurant sales

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Cutting edge visual displays and content creation and management systems were showcased last week at the Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas.

For restaurants, the largest takeaways included a look behind best practices and usage at Dairy Queen and Wendy’s, where operators said digital menu boards and supporting technologies have increased sales, helped drive consumers to specific, margin-friendly items and helped inventory management.

On the exhibit floor, vendors displayed such items as wall-sized laser-plasma screens presenting full-motion, high-definition imagery that use less energy than a hair dryer, and bendable display technologies that present static or video images on curved or cylindrical surfaces.

Digital Signage Expo 2012, or DSE 2012, was co-located with the Digital Content Show and began last Tuesday and closed Friday. Nation’s Restaurant News is a media sponsor of the event.

“I get goose bumps thinking about it,” said Sue Culver, vice president of retail merchandising for International Dairy Queen, while discussing the potential of digital signage to more easily manage the presentation and promotion of 47 different menu types that exist for the chain’s DQ Grill & Chill, Brazier and “Limited” concept variations.

The 5,900-plus-unit Dairy Queen system has tested digital boards that display multimedia menu messaging — but do not list the full menu or regular prices — in 12 restaurants in the United States and Canada. In January, the chain began to roll them out.

Culver was part of a DSE 2012 educational panel, “Digital Menu Boards in QSR. Why Now?” that also featured Bob Lopez of JMJ LLC, a 16-unit Wendy’s franchisee and Rick Engels, vice president of business development for point-of-sale and digital signage vendor Wand Corp.

Culver, who said she believes “digital is the future in menu board merchandising,” explained that in test units, more than 80 percent of the time, the quantity of an item sold increased on a year-over-year basis when it was featured on the digital signage’s promotional playlist.

The digital boards Dairy Queen has tested can be used to deliver upsell messaging, such as suggestions that guests add a specific beverage with a food item; promote items not normally shown on the menu, such as highly profitable ice cream cakes; and help manage inventory by featuring items that use overstocked ingredients or promoting a different item when a unit runs out of a key ingredient for a limited-time offer, she said.

Chains using networked digital signage technology can also better control store-level compliance with systemwide promotional schedules by pushing down from headquarters or switching on appropriate content on the allotted day and time, Culver said. At Dairy Queen, franchisees will have the ability to override such franchisor actions should extraordinary circumstances arise, such as a situation in which a franchisee did not receive LTO-related ingredients by the scheduled start of a promotion.