Digital menu boards are electronic displays of menus, typically found at quick-serve restaurants, coffee shops, and service-based businesses. It’s an easy way to show customers opportunities for upsells, calories, and prices. The ongoing cost for software and hardware could be as low as $20 per month after the initial, sometimes expensive investment of screens.
How Digital Menu Boards Work
To make a digital menu board work, you need at least four components: a monitor or television, internet connection, media player, and software to turn that screen into a digital menu. It’s a bit like hooking up a Roku to your TV at home.
As your menu or prices vary, you can make changes to your digital menu board through the online dashboard of the software you choose, and the updates are immediate. A digital menu can also be used to display different menus at different times of day, which is a great solution for a quick-serve restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, or dinner with different menus for each at different times. Oftentimes, digital menus will be an extension of or integrated with your business’ point-of-sale (POS) system.
What You Need for a Digital Menu Board
A digital menu board requires a few key components to work, and then there are the peripherals, such as software and graphics. If you want to avoid installation fees, the do-it-yourself method only requires you to know how to mount a television on a wall and plug in a few devices.
Here’s what you’ll need to get your digital menu board started.
You’ll need to decide how many screens you want to adapt to use as digital menu boards. Many fast-food franchises have a row of monitors behind the counter placed high to allow all customers to see the various menus. How many you need depends largely on the size of your menu, what you want to display, and how much space you have. For reference, check out a local McDonald’s, and you’ll usually see four to six screens.
Many digital signage companies provide the hardware needed to display content on your screens. Often, the cost is factored into your monthly fee, or you’ll pay upfront. The alternative is to buy your own hardware from electronic retailers. The small devices are essentially media players that connect through an HDMI port. Theoretically, you could use a computer to do the same thing, but these devices are small, inexpensive, and convenient.
To ensure your content reliably shows up on your displays, you’ll need to have a stable internet connection. Most digital menu systems should connect through an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. The media player also needs a power source.
The program that drives your menu and content is one of the most important elements, and you have many choices here. Some software requires you to create your own graphics and menus while others like Raydiant include premade menus and other content from which you can choose. The templates are easy to use, and you drag-and-drop each element to each screen.
If you have design experience or a designer working for you to create menus and other content for your digital menu, you can upload your own images, menus, and other information to the software. Alternatively, a digital signage company may provide you with the images and content you need.
You could also hire a designer from Fiverr to create only what you need. Changing prices or menu items is a simple process in most software, so you likely won’t need more than a freelancer to create the graphic elements needed. Sign up for free.
Who Digital Menu Boards Are Right For
A restaurateur is an obvious target for digital menu boards, but they aren’t the only ones who can make use of them. There are plenty of other industries that can make good use of digital displays with menus, content, or other information.
Below is a list of businesses that could benefit from a digital menu:
- Quick-service restaurants: Franchises, coffee shops, diners, fine dining establishments, and any other food-related brick-and-mortar restaurant could benefit from having digital menus to display food, prices, nutritional info, and photos of food
- Hospitality: Hotels that want to advertise happy hours in their bars, welcome conventions ― and give the conference room location ― checkout times, and more can change a digital display daily if needed
- Retail: A digital menu board can be used to display sales, new products, or promotions for a loyalty program, for example; alternatively, use digital displays to entertain in-store shoppers
- Services: Spas, gyms, salons and other service-based industries can easily change prices for holidays, show off trending packages, and list basic services and prices on a digital display
- Auto dealerships: Show off your vehicles’ accessory packages, weekend or holiday promos, or display digital entertainment as the car-buying process is a long one
- Health care: A digital menu board can be installed in a waiting room to display appointment lines, waiting times, and exam room number for patients waiting to see a physician
- Grocery: Display your latest circular on a digital menu for shoppers to reference; you’ll cut down on printing costs, and you can update pricing easily week to week
Whether you want to inform, market, or entertain, a digital menu board is an excellent way to do it. It’s a good solution for almost any industry that needs to communicate with their customers more effectively, and in a way that’s dynamic and expected in today’s tech-forward society.
Digital Menu Board Costs
There are a few different costs associated with digital menu boards, but you can expect to pay about $400 to $1,700, for a single digital menu board, with all components considered. You can piecemeal together what you need by buying media players and displays yourself, but you can also purchase equipment packages for convenience.
The cloud-based software is typically a separate cost, and it’s usually a monthly deal, which often includes easy-to-use content management system, templates, graphic elements, and customer support. Installation of equipment may be another cost.
Here’s what you can expect when purchasing digital menu boards and associated software:
- Media player: Pricing for a media player can vary wildly, depending on brand, amount of memory, and how you purchase it; costs $50 to $300 each
- Display: Choose TVs that can be mounted on walls; costs will vary depending on brand, specifications like LCD or LED, size, and bulk discounting; costs around $300 to $1,200 each for 48 inches to 55 inches
- Software: Cloud-based software comes with a monthly fee, and some require a contract, but typically that will include a discount, which is usually paid annually at around $12 to $30 per month, per screen
- Peripherals: You’ll likely need to buy mounting gear and tools to install your TVs, or pay for installation; if you do it yourself, you’ll likely save hundreds of dollars
Implementing digital signage can be an affordable upgrade from the paper or plastic sign solution you have now. If you’re outfitting your space with multiple screens, it could be a sizable investment, but it should pay for itself within the first year, as you’ll save on printing, time, and better potential for upsells. Average sales could increase by 3% to 5%; 20% of customers say digital signage influenced an unplanned purchase, according to Eclipse Digital Media’s report.
Types of Digital Menu Boards
A digital menu board doesn’t have to be used strictly for menus, and some are meant specifically for outdoors, wayfinding, or even to encourage guest interaction. Specialized digital displays may be pricier, but the opportunity to draw a new crowd to your store could be worth the investment.
Below are a few different types of digital menu boards you might want to consider for your business:
- Digital posters: These are not much different than digital menu boards; it’s just a matter of what you display on the screens and where you place them in your store; they can be used to showcase new fashions, coming soon announcements, calendar of events, and more
- Individual digital menus: Lightspeed Restaurant is a great example of using digital menus for individual customers; place an iPad or small kiosk at each table to allow customers to flip through your menu and order when they’re ready
- Digital kiosks: You’ve probably seen these standalone digital menu boards at some quick-service restaurants where customers can view menus, place their order, and pay all on one screen
- Outdoor digital menus: Whether you use these encased displays to show a menu, for marketing, or even third-party advertising, they’re useful for many different industries, including fast-food franchises, event centers, and more
- Digital wayfinding: Hospitals, shopping malls, and educational centers often make use of digital menus to show a visitor where they are, and how to get where they’re going
- Interactive digital kiosks: Touch screen digital displays are popping up in retail stores, in conference rooms, and outdoor malls; with just a touch on the screen, you can zoom in to find a store, see more information, and more
As technology improves, businesses begin to adopt what seemed out of reach. The next big thing in digital menu boards could go beyond interactive screens and toward augmented reality. One company is already providing restaurants a way to display menu items in 3D (more on that below).
Digital Menu Board Software
Digital menu boards can be pieced together by buying screens from your preferred retailer, and then acquiring cloud-based digital menu software. The media player comes as part of a software package with some, while others require you to purchase it separately or from one of the provider’s partners.
Here are the various digital menu board software options you should consider.
Raydiant has low-priced month-to-month or one-year contracts that start at $49 per month, per screen. The package includes a media player for each screen you sign up for and you’ll get access to templates, weather and news apps, and more.
Reach offers a package that includes a media player you buy outright, and a monthly subscription to access the software that controls your content. There are several templates from which to choose, plus widgets you can incorporate to display the time, weather, videos, counters, pricing, and more.
Empower your customers with tableside ordering. Using iPads you buy separately, you can use the Lightspeed Restaurant software to display digital menus at each table. The touchscreen makes it possible for customers to interact with the menu to see photos of food, and order food themselves.
Like Reach, Enplug offers media players for you to buy outright. You have your choice of a monthly or annual plan, and you can theoretically get up to 1,000 screens supported. Pricing starts at $130.50 per month per license, but there are deep discounts when you choose multiple screens. Two screens come to $85.50 per month, per license if paid annually.
One of the latest technologies in digital menu boards is 3D food. Kabaq is bringing augmented reality to food menus in restaurants like Bareburger and Magnolia Bakery. Customers can view precisely what their food choice will look like before they order, which could lead to more sales and more word-of-mouth advertising.
Digital Menu Board Features
While a digital menu board is typically used for restaurant menus — specifically in quick-service restaurants — it can be modified for retail, corporate, hospitality, spas, salons, and many other industries. The features of digital menu software are flexible enough to allow you to use images, designs, and more to make it work how you need.
Most digital menu board software will include the basic features listed below. If you opt for free digital menu software, it should include many of these:
- Dashboard: This is the central spot in the web app where you’ll control what’s shown on each of your digital menu boards
- Upload media: You should be able to upload your own photos, graphics, and videos; the easiest-to-use digital menu software allows you to drag and drop files into the repository
- Templates: Boilerplate forms that are most used with digital menu boards, such as menus, directories, and posters
- Apps: You should be able to connect a variety of apps to display information and media, such as the current time, weather, or even YouTube videos
Many of these advanced features can be found in some of the best digital menu software, such as Raydiant. You should also check with a provider to find out how it keeps your data that’s stored and displayed safe and secure.
- Scheduling: Digital menu boards should follow the same rule as radio: no dead air; scheduling lets you set up each screen to display precisely what you need at different times of the day, which is also helpful when you have rotating menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- Looping: You should have the option to loop playlists to ensure your screen never goes blank if you’d rather not schedule different content
- Filtering: Some digital menu software allows you to display social media content on your screens; however, to keep it family-friendly, there might be smart filters that will remove posts with profanity or other negative content
- Security: At the very least, the digital menu software you choose that’s hosted in the cloud should offer at-rest and in-transit encryption, so your data is always safe
- Support: The top-tier digital menu providers will include support at no extra cost, and it should be available to you at least during business hours
Pros & Cons of Digital Menu Boards
When it comes to the pros and cons of digital menu boards, the positives stack up quickly. The statistics on digital display back this list up too. Using a digital menu board can help drive sales, they’re more convenient, and you can display calorie counts easily, which is required in some cases. Yes, it’s a pricier option than print, but it’s an investment.
Pros of a Digital Menu Board
Here are the pros of going green and getting a digital menu board:
- Drive sales: You have the power of menu psychology, which is similar to any other form of digital marketing, to attract a customer’s attention to a particular deal; for example, include animation or rotating photos in the top right corner of your digital menu board
- More exposure: Customers tend to spend more time in retail stores that have digital signage; statistics show 30 percent more time compared to static signs, according to an InfoTrends study
- Convenience: Printed menu boards can be difficult to change, and you have the time factor to consider; a digital menu can change as often as you’d like, and it’s as easy as filling out forms online
- Timesaver: Spend less time changing menus, ordering menus, and waiting for them to be delivered
- Nutritional info: It’s far easier to display nutritional information on your food menus with a digital menu board; if you make any changes to a menu item, you won’t have to reprint a menu with the new calorie count
Cons of a Digital Menu Board
The negatives of introducing a digital menu board are fewer, such as:
- Cost: To get started with digital menu boards, you’ll have to spend a sizeable amount for TVs or monitors, media players, and you’ll have an ongoing monthly fee; plus, if you want professional photos or graphics, you’ll have to hire talent for it
- Outages: If your internet connection goes out, your menus are down; it’s a good idea to have a mobile hotspot ready to go as a backup, but this could come with extra costs as well.
A digital menu board can be used to bring your restaurant, retail store, or other business into the 21st century. It’s a convenient, easy, and relatively affordable solution to the static menus, directories, maps, and in-store advertising you currently have. To learn more about implementing technology that can improve brick and mortar operations, read our guide on using a POS system to run your business.