Print vs. Digital: Which Style of Menu Board Is Right for You?

Mar 03,2024

At first glance, it can feel like a no-brainer. In a world where customers can order and pay for almost any kind of food from a handheld device, doesn’t it make sense for onsite menu boards to go digital, too? 

The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might guess. Yes, digital menu boards have the potential to offer your customers a sleek, tech-friendly vibe –– and research has shown that the presence of digital menu boards does reduce perceived wait time by as much as 35% –– but there are some trade-offs to consider. Let’s take a closer look at what menu boards do for your location, and why it might not necessarily always make sense to switch to digital.

It’s true that digital menu boards have achieved enormous popularity with multi-unit brands –– especially in the QSR/fast casual arena. Digital menu boards are endlessly customizable, and if you’re dayparting (offering different menus at different times of day), it’s easy to choose between showing off your full range and limiting your display to currently available items. If your menu changes frequently, you want a display option that can change quickly, too. You don’t want your customers to make it as far as ordering before discovering that the thing they had their heart set on is, sadly, sold out.   

Digital menu boards also make it possible to display nutritional information, allergen warnings, and limited-time promotions. There’s no doubt that they’re great at upselling side orders and subtly persuading customers to go for high-value add-ons. Get the guac, whispers the bright, high-res image, it’s right there, it looks so good.

All of this is great, but it’s not cheap. A digital menu board system that comes with these capabilities carries a relatively steep cost and might not be a realistic expense for franchisees who don’t rely on support from a generous corporate marketing budget. It’s an investment in hardware, software, and, more than likely, a recurring fee for ongoing tech support.

Which you’ll need! As with any other piece of technology, digital menu boards aren’t always intuitive or simple to operate. And when they do go down, they really go down –– at least until someone has a minute to contact tech support, reboot, or perform one of the other fussy operations that always seem to need to be done when there’s a line to the door. Traditional menu boards are easier to install, have no operating costs, and no digital glitches. In today’s fast-paced world, customers expect quality and speed, and technology doesn’t always make that possible. Many restaurants are already experiencing staffing shortages that make drive-thru lines and wait times considerably longer. The last thing you need is a digital menu board to go black, leaving customers unable to decide what to order and further slowing everything down.

Consider, too, that the effectiveness of digital menu boards depends heavily on sightlines. Do your customers have unobstructed access to a wide display field as soon as they enter your business? How does the layout force people to navigate the space? 

Traditional menu boards do as much to decorate as they do to inform, too, and may well be a better fit for your brand’s overall aesthetic and identity. Both digital and traditional menus offer the ability to customize and make updates. However, digital menu boards require updating information into the software, which is often more time-consuming than simply peeling off and replacing printed snips.

The right marketing partner should have no trouble customizing stanchions, posters, table tents, or any other kind of display you need to suit the specifics of your locations. Maybe your menu only changes a few times each year and you’ve perfected a targeted local marketing plan with promotions that don’t need to be announced in the moment. Print is still your friend! COVID-19 has forever changed the way many diners regard handheld menus, and using a scannable QR code in the corner of a printed menu board often makes more sense than trying to convey all your menu information on a wall-mounted screen.

Digital menu boards do offer a degree of speed and convenience that might be the perfect match for your array of offerings and rapidly changing menu items. But print menu boards are just as capable of offering your customers a streamlined ordering experience, and can also convey a sense of familiarity, stability, and warmth –– all without digital errors and operating costs.   

The right solution for you depends on your location and your goals. Remember earlier when we mentioned the right marketing partner? That’s us. Read more about our menu optimization capabilities, and get in touch to schedule a consultation!

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