August 11, 2014 |

Digital Menu Boards

By Denise Greer

Photo by Rick Daugherty

Photo by Rick Daugherty

Walk the average commercial block and you may notice a lot more digital signage about.The retail sector, including restaurants, has seen a surge in digital displays.

Raf Vanreusel, managing partner at TelemediaVision in Baltimore, Maryland, says retail is one of the fastest growing markets for digital signage. The QSR industry was an early adopter of digital menu boards.

With commodity cost fluctuations, digital menu boards have allowed them to adjust pricing easily and without the hefty printing fees.

In the cases of fast-casual, full-service and fine-dining establishments, digital menu boards may not reflect the concept that pizzeria operators are going for. Digital signage encompasses abroad array of digital screens — from menu boards and promotional displays to kiosks and interactive channels — that may be more suited for different types of concepts. Nino Perna, owner of Nick & Nino’s Coal Oven Pizza in Monroe, Michigan, had 24 flat-screen TVs installed throughout his restaurant when it opened three years ago. Four of the screens are dedicated as the pizzeria’s channel. The screens display photos of menu items,specials and promotions, and special events, as well as advertising the restaurant’s heated patio.

The system helps sell items, Perna says, such as the coal-fired baby back ribs he introduced. “at first, the ribs weren’t selling until we started showing the ribs as they came out of the oven on the screens,” he says. “Now they are one of our most popular menu items.” Perna enlists a professional photographer to shoot artistic food shots regularly. he also works with a local marketing company to produce content and update the screens.

Restaurants are going digital for a number of reasons. Bryan Meszaros, founder of Openeye Global in New Jersey, says the biggest draw of digital is the speed to market. “Digital enables them to get their message out a lot quicker and it gives them more flexibility,” he says, adding that there’s also tremendous upsell and promotional potential and enhancements to the customer experience.

Meszaros says that many of the barriers keeping operators from going digital have been broken. “It’s not difficult to install; it’s not difficult

to maintain and it’s not difficult to produce content for,” he says. a digital system consists of screens, a media player (computer), management software, a wireless or network connection and mounting systems.

LCD screens are most commonly used, followed by plasma. Meszaros has seen an increase in the higher- priced LeD displays for their energy efficiency and sleeker frame.

Software varies from intelligent programs that integrate with a store’s POS system to ones that play a continual loop of various videos, animations and images, either designed by the operator or a third party.

The entire set-up is customized for each business and a single system can run $900 to $1,500 on the low side, Meszaros says. a complete menu board system with four-panel display, installation, design, hardware and software may run upwards of $10,000 with buy or lease options. With such a significant investment, VanReusel suggests that when you are vetting for the project, be sure that the suppliers are local.

If something should go down or malfunctions, “you need someone on the ground,” he says. Meszaros and VanReusel say operators also should not be surprised by a monthly fee associated with the system, ranging from $30 to $100 depending on the system. The fees typically cover things like web hosting, maintenance and content changes.

Both Meszaros and VanReusel caution operators not to be lured by the low-priced consumer television market. The Digital Screenmedia association offers guidance for screens. Consumer-grade screens are rated for 20,000 hours of use, while commercial grade extends 50,000- 60,000 hours. Using a retail screen in a business setting often voids the typical one-year warranty, but commercial grade averages a three- year warranty.

When it comes to digital promotional signage, placement is key to success. “You have to be a little more strategic about where the screen is at,” Meszaros says. Point of sale and waiting areas are hot spots for digital signage. In high foot-traffic locations, window displays draw passersby.

The final — and most important — piece of the digital puzzle is the content. The content is dynamic, Meszaros says. “Think of it as a Web page, and it’s pulling information from all of these different sources,” he says, elaborating that sources could include: photos, scrolling text, video, and Facebook, Twitter and RSS feeds.

Meszaros suggests to use a mix of things to help set the ambiance for the dining experience. Keep the content fresh is the best advice Perna says he can give. “If people are accustomed to seeing the same thing, they will stop looking at the screens.” Perna rotates in new content at Nick & Nino’s once a month, changing everything from the images to the colors and backgrounds used.

Ask the Right Questions

Brian Gorg, executive director of the Digital Signage Federation (DSF), says that dynamic digital signage has a place, but does not replace static signage. It all fits together. If you are considering digital signage, the DSF poses questions that you should con- sider asking potential digital signage vendors:

  • Is it web-based? Does it stream or upload to the media player?
  • If the server goes down or Internet is unavailable, will the media player still perform?
  • Do I have to create my own con- tent, or do you provide that service? u Can I perform local content inser- tion, allowing managers to override product pricing/availability?
  • Are you able to display multiple RSS feeds on the screen?
  • What type(s) of software and/or hardware support do you offer?
  • How much training is available to me after purchase?

For a complete list of the questions to ask digital signage vendors, visit

Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.