The digital menu board is the drive-thru touchpoint that brings together a host of important visual elements that correlate with the customer experience, including dynamic content to upsell menu items.
Drive-thru service has long been the leading revenue generator for QSRs and fast casual restaurants. The pandemic not only reiterated just how essential the drive-thru model is for these businesses — it has inspired modernization initiatives throughout North America to improve the customer experience. That includes everything from reimagining traffic flow patterns and architectural structures to digital menu boards and ordering systems, all with the goals of improving the drive-thru experience and increasing customer receipts.
For readers of QSRweb, the digital menu board likely holds great interest. This is the drive-thru touchpoint that bring together a host of important visual elements that correlate with the customer experience, including dynamic content to upsell menu items.
These initiatives are not as simple as swapping out new boards within existing structures. Just like the driver’s journey to reach the menu board and ordering stage, the business itself has a substantial journey to embark on across site planning, equipment selection, and installation and commissioning among other requirements. How you plan for these complex installations in advance, and how you manage the installation process itself, will go a long way in ensuring a smooth operation that remains on time and budget.
Surveying the landscape
Improving the traffic flow is an essential component to modernizing the drive-thru experience. One example is the trend toward dual-lane patterns that help busier QSRs accommodate more traffic and accelerate customer journeys. Adding a lane is often said to increase sales by about five percent, and monthly revenue potentially by the thousands.
Regardless of whether the business retains the same traffic pattern or expands to add lanes, a well-planned installation procedure ensures a smooth progression through every digital menu board project phase. We call this a “process flow,” and it begins with a typical sales journey. That means scheduling discovery calls with franchise operators and developing quotations for hardware, software and installation services.
The subsequent site preparation and site survey phases represent ground zero for the installation’s success. This is the foundational project management work that determines what real estate exists to work with, how traffic patterns can be changed or expanded, and how the technology infrastructure can be altered to accommodate new structures and systems.
Site preparation and surveys brings together essential research and knowledge prior to breaking ground. This includes providing site readiness documents to general contractors, reviewing equipment needs, and planning tentative installation schedules. This is also when changes to initial equipment orders take place based on local permit restrictions.
The information gathered from these phases is invaluable for obtaining permits required to properly executive the modernization plan. The permitting process requires working with local municipalities and sometimes adjacent businesses to submit applications that prove the project will follow ordinances, abide by timelines and minimize disruptions.
Ensuring that all preparation and permitting processes run smoothly and efficiently are essential to ensuring the result meets the customer’s specifications and customer experience goals. These phases confirm essential requirements to support the digital menu board infrastructure, such as where we run electrical for digital menu boards, where we establish dedicated low-voltage circuits for each screen, and the amperage requirements for each screen.
In addition to adhering to local municipality ordinances, this important electrical system planning ensures that digital menu boards never lose power or are turned off by sensors. That can happen if the electrical circuits connect with parking lot lights or building lights, for example. This is what we call dirty power, where the menu boards share neutral electric or grounding with an adjacent circuit. Clean power with dedicated circuits eliminates these issues that can power down digital menu board systems.
The same preparation phases also confirm requirements for the installation of the structure itself, from planning shipments and installation dates to reviewing change orders and enacting training plans during the installation.
Installing digital menu boards
The installation process itself is accelerated when taking a modular approach to physically building out the systems. For example, we often install digital menu boards and structures built by third parties. We have installed some systems where we literally require a truck or a crane to dissemble crates, lift the structure and swing it over top of the drive-through, requiring multiple technicians.
There are simpler ways to manage these installations that will accelerate the installation process, and help contractors obey strict timelines. Most digital menu board systems today come in single, double or triple configurations, using portrait-style displays that come standard in 55-inch configurations (less common 46- and 49-inch versions also exist). Some companies build out and install systems in “lift-and-drop” configurations. This modular installation strategy mounts custom-designed rails to the displays that lift and drop into horizontal slotted supports. This strategy also eliminates restrictions on air intake and exhaust – a unique design attribute in the digital menu board community.
For modular installations, a typical digital menu board design in any configuration (single, double or triple) will arrive on a pallet with the frame, structure and physical pedestal, all in several pieces. Additionally, there is the horizontal support and mounting rails added to the back of the menu boards. A base plate cover is added to obscure the anchor bolts and create a clean appearance of the overall structure. For additional assistance, QR codes are provided for installers that take them direct to a reference library for all menu board configuration styles.
By using this modular structure and installation approach, the number of technicians typically required is reduced from many to two. The installation of the structure is achieved within a couple of hours, regardless of the menu board design. Once the horizontal slotted support is attached to the pedestal, two technicians can often carefully lift the pedestal and support onto the anchor bolts.
The entire process flow leading up to the final installation phase requires coordination with site contractors to ensure they have all site prep information, drawings and design requirements. This same information, along with additional drawings often stamped by professional engineers, require submission to and approval by the municipalities to ensure that all safety protocols are met in advance of construction. As municipalities take their time (often literally) to approve plans, the architectural planning of the menu board and ordering system structures themselves commence. With strict timelines to follow, it requires an “all systems go” approach once cleared to proceed.
The commissioning and operation of the actual digital menu board will vary based on the number of menu items required, if preview boards are added, and several other factors. Palmer Digital Group regularly builds modular digital menu board systems with 100 menu items spread over single, double, and triple displays. The content itself always needs to be legible for customers, and the displays need to be installed at the optimal viewing height for the best customer sightlines at the ordering point. Additional environment concerns such as how sunlight affects legibility represent other concerns when planning your installation.
The content itself is of course the ultimate influencer for influencing decisions and increasing receipts. We work closely content specialists who understand how to develop dynamic and compelling content for today’s digital menu boards that vary in size, scale and more, and work closely with our customers to choose the right CMS software for their menu boards. The drive-thru customer experience is always enhanced through using the right digital signage software and, increasingly, marketing analytics to communicate menu items, prices, promotions and suggestive selling that ultimately influence purchasing decisions.
Modernization of the drive-thru is among the more complex endeavors in the digital signage universe. There is not one slice of the ecosystem that matters most, and every component must come together to deliver true value in the end.
Strong sales professional with an engineering background skilled in Negotiation, Business/Market Development, Sales Leadership, Custom product development, and Strategic Communications. Specializing in such industries as, Retail, QSR, Transit, Education and a host of other markets with a focus on digital kiosks and display enclosure solutions, electronic enclosures for indoor and outdoor applications.