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How Digital Menu Boards Boost Drive-Thru Sales and Efficiency

June 2019
Sagenet Blog Drive Thru Technology
By IV Dickson

The end of World War II brought a dramatic increase in traffic along Route 66 as Americans took to their cars to enjoy postwar freedoms. Recognizing the business potential, Sheldon “Red” Chaney and his wife, Julia, opened a hamburger stand on a stretch of the highway in Springfield, Mo., in 1947. The most noteworthy feature of Red’s Giant Hamburg restaurant was a window cut into the side of the building where customers could drive up, get their food and get right back on the road without leaving their cars.

It is widely considered to be the world’s first drive-thru restaurant.

The concept obviously caught on. Quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are now a nearly $600 billion global industry, and it is estimated that 70 percent of all fast food purchases take place at drive-thru windows.

From the very beginning, the menu board has been a key part of QSR operations. The Chaneys and other industry pioneers quickly realized that a prominent sign listing foods, beverages and prices allowed customers to decide what they wanted before reaching the window. This boosted the speed of service and kept cars from stacking up in the drive.

Modern digital menu boards deliver those benefits and much more. Outdoor digital menus allow QSRs to reduce their operating costs, increase sales, streamline operations and deliver a better customer experience through more relevant and targeted content. Unlike traditional printed menu boards, digital signage can be updated easily with new menu items, price changes and time-sensitive promotions and discounts.

While digital signage is more expensive than traditional illuminated menu boards, studies show that the additional investment pays off. Although digital menu boards can be roughly twice the $12,000 price of high-end light-box boards, QSRs are seeing an ROI in 12 to 18 months, along with reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) over the normal life of the equipment.

According to a Forrester Total Economic Impact (TEI) study of outdoor digital menu boards, a QSR could save $30,000 in printing costs per year per location while eliminating the labor expenses associated with updating traditional menus. Additionally, digital boards can increase the average value of orders by 2.5 percent, and the conversion rate on promotional items by 2 percent. The technology also increased overall traffic volumes by 9.1 percent and decreased wait times by 5.75 percent through greater efficiency. Together, these factors increased profitability by almost $1.5 million over a five-year period for the composite QSR used in the study.

The results can be even more dramatic for high-margin items such as beverages. Typically, just 20 percent of customers who come through the drive-thru purchase a drink with their order. If digital menu boards double that number, overall sales would increase by 5 percent to 7 percent.

Achieving these results requires a strategic approach. Because few QSRs have expertise in outdoor digital signage and the infrastructure required to support it, it makes good business sense to partner with an experienced technology provider for design, maintenance and support.

SageNet has successfully implemented indoor and outdoor digital signage for QSRs nationwide. Our team helps customers select the right digital signage solutions and implements networks with the bandwidth and performance needed to deliver multimedia content. We also offer a cloud-based content management system that’s ideal for multisite operations.

Because reliability is critical, SageNet provides 24×7 monitoring of displays, media players and the network, along with comprehensive maintenance for digital signage systems. network of field technicians provides onsite maintenance and responsive support.

Red’s Giant Hamburg served its last hamburger in 1984, but its innovative window service has become a mainstay of the QSR industry. Digital menu boards extend the legacy by improving the customer experience and driving increases in sales and profitability.

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