In This Article

This is part of a multi-article series focused on tackling the Restaurant of the Future.

As consumers demand greater convenience, brands have closely examined the guest experience to identify and resolve sources of friction.  This process and the strategic imperative behind this practice we previously covered in How Digital Elevates Fast Casual.

The latest challenge facing Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) are a shortage on labor and supply chain uncertainties. It is during these unsettled times, while the store may not be operating at peak efficiency, when friction in digital experiences will have a compounding negative effect on both guests and store associates. Brands looking to improve their unit economics and maintain a great digital experience should be turning their eyes to operations and closely examine how technology within their four walls can fuel transformation into a Restaurant of the Future

The long standing debate on digital menu boards have tantalized QSR for years. Before going further, let's define the difference in format and function of menus for Quick Service vs. Casual Dining vs. Fine Dining:

  1. Quick Service – Typically positioned above the eyeline behind the ordering counter, commonly 3 or 4 panels in width and meant to be prominently visible for anyone in queue.  Strategic placement of pricing and product merchandising is both an art and science – built for speed, convenience and bundling of items to create higher value tickets.
  2. Casual Dining – Most commonly printed and can range from a single page or multiple pages with finished binding. Different concepts might use product imagery to entice guests with higher dollar items or to encourage cross category trial. The size and complexity of the menu is often to deflect the guests attention from the traditionally slower speed of table service.
  3. Fine Dining – Think of white table cloths and leather bound folios. Rarely do they contain pictures, and instead use well-crafted descriptions of items and ingredients to spark diner's imagination and curiosity. Prices are commonly higher, not prominently displayed and occasionally marked with "Market Price."

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The case for digital menus at QSR

Specifically to QSR, the premise of switching from physical menus to digital come with an array of very compelling benefits:

  • Operating Costs – Avoidance of having to print new menus and/or labor to keep the boards up to date with each switch in daypart.
  • Item Relevance and Marketing – The ability to highlight new, or promoted items on the menu to drive trial or upselling.
  • Ease of Updates – Launch new menu items, remove out of stocks/recalls, dynamic pricing strategies, all centrally controlled from a back office computer or centralized server.
  • Brand Relevance – Consumer preferences are skewing hyper digital. Younger target demographics expect to have digital interfaces to interact with.

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Handling key objections

Despite the array of benefits (in theory), not every QSR has shifted to digital menu boards (in practice). The common barriers to implementing in restaurant digital signage typically come from two camps:

  • Technical: Who is responsible for maintaining the hardware? Who is managing the content? What about security?
  • Financial: Will this produce a return on investment? How will we fund the installation and hardware purchase?

Even if an organization can overcome the typical objections, the more crucial stakeholder group(s) that require attention are those who perceive their jobs to be changing and responsibilities taken away by the threat of digital signage. We see the deviation in digital menu board adoption largely stems back to how organizations handle a more nuanced objection from operations and marketing.

Objection Operations believes they will lose control, lacking knowledgeable and skilled staff to maintain the new menu boards.


  • The traditional skills needed to maintain menu relevance is highly valued in the world of digital menus – timely communication between front and back of house, clarity of item availability and pricing to the guest. Digitizing the menu and management through a web-interface does not diminish the need for timely and accurate coordination in the store.
  • If designed properly, the digital equivalent should provide the operator with opportunity for automation, more frequent experimentation and optimization based on business performance. Operators should embrace the opportunity to experiment with different menu layouts based on daypart, weather conditions or inventory position (surplus or shortages of fresh items that are due to expire).
  • Equipped with the right software management interface, digital menu boards can be maintained and audited remotely – thus resulting in more control and oversight. For a multi-unit restaurant operator, having the ability to audit menus without making on site visits represents significant costs and labor savings.

Objection: Marketing believes digital menu boards will greatly restrict their ability to express the brand's image, and over time will become another digital interface that is purely built for function. Traditional print designers will become obsolete and their jobs are at risk.


  • Moving to a digitized in store interface provides Marketing with the best opportunity to deliver the most cohesive guest experience across digital, print, media, on and off premise. Menu boards and in store signage can be managed centrally and new assets (images, menu items, promotions) can be deployed in concert with the website, mobile app, media buys and point of sale.
  • Designing for large form digital displays has come a long way, and guests have become conditioned to interact with these interfaces. The strategic use of colors, iconography, product imagery and clever use of subtle animation can be used to accentuate the guest experience and yet another tool in the marketer's arsenal.
  • The ability to compress the production process will enable more frequent test and learn cycles, and could change the paradigm on how design occurs. The focus on digital may potentially create higher demand for designers to develop multiple versions of a menu or more flexible design systems that allow for hyper-localization and personalization by store.

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Bottom line

Digital transformations typically focus on delivering long term value, but taking incremental steps like Digital Menu boards can deliver short term lift to operations and preparing marketing for the future. Delivering unit growth through better technology integration has the potential to convert entire departments for this future, and well-positions QSR brands to become more innovative and agile, which could be the new growth itself.

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