15 ways to wow customers with a digital signage menu board

A digital signage menu board is essential in the world of out-of-home dining, particularly in quick service restaurants (QSRs). And with fast food chains offering an ever-growing range, to an increasingly time-conscious clientele, effective menu comms is a vital part of a restaurant’s business strategy.

And clienteles can change, not just between different restaurants, but also for a specific restaurant, depending on the time of day. Prior to the availability of digital signage menu boards, a restaurant would be forced to display everything on offer, all day (and not many people are looking for breakfast at 7pm). It was either this, or staff would be required to physically change menu boards, taking up valuable time in the process. But with digital signage, different messaging and options can be presented at different times of the day (see our digital signage templates post for some great examples). This offers a huge amount of flexibility, but also throws up challenges about the best ways to maximise impact, user experience, and sales.

Digital menu board design tips

In this post we reveal a number of ways to improve your menu boards, including five pieces of advice from Chris Shenton, Head of Research at Pixel Inspiration.  Pixel Inspiration  works with a range of QSR and dining-focussed clients, including Pret, Itsu, Harry Ramsden, Barburrito, Debenhams Café, Carluccio’s and Waitrose.

1. Appreciate that your viewers will actively seek out a menu board

In the wider industry, we tend to talk about in-store digital signage as being a form of ‘glance media’; that being something viewers attend to in small bursts, as and when their attention isn’t being occupied by other stimuli. This means we typically look to utilise some design tricks to grab visual attention, such as colour change, motion onset and human faces (all super-effective at drawing peripheral vision).

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However, in a QSR setting, viewers will actively attend to your digital screens as they provide task-relevant information that helps them make accurate and informed purchase decisions. Flashy animations and attention-grabbing assets can distract a viewer, and draw attention away unnecessarily. When designing content for a digital signage menu board, bear in mind this important distinction. Whether it be our work with Itsu, Debenhams, Barburrito or any other QSR client, you should never see menu content with much in the way of animation and vibrant transitions.

Digital signage menu board: Itsu image

2. Nothing gets us salivating like hi-resolution video

Just like Pavlov’s dogs, humans can’t help but get excited in the presence of food. Research has shown that imagery of our favourite treats gets us salivating, and raises cognitive activity within the brain’s pleasure detection zones. These biological responses have a measurable impact on our behaviour, namely in the consumer scenario, with an increased likelihood of purchase and potential total spend.

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While food imagery has been a staple of QSRs for decades, digital menu boards now allow for video to be utilised as well. Testing has shown that the physiological impact to viewers is significantly increased when they see footage compared to static images, thus improving the potential for adapting and leading behaviour. While video will always be more costly to utilise as part of your digital signage menu boards, if you have the budget you should look to capitalise on the increased benefits afforded by video.

Create a digital signage menu board with video

3. No one likes spending money, so consider softening the blow

A fascinating study by Cornell University investigated the impact the way in which a price is presented has on purchase decisions. The team set up a restaurant in which, dependent on where you sat, you would receive one of three menus. Menu one presented cost in the standard format of currency symbol and numeric price (e.g. ‘$10’); menu two showed numeric price sans the currency symbol (e.g. ‘10’); and menu three showed both currency and price but purely as textual information (e.g. ‘ten dollars’).

The belief was that, with our brains not being overly effective at calculating when presented with numbers as words, those who dined from menu three would end up spending more on average, as they lost track of their spend. However, what was found was that those dining from menu two actually had the highest spend.

Follow up research found that though many of us love shopping, no one enjoys the paying part of the process. When we are told the price of something in which a currency is shown (either through symbols or text) there is a spike in activity of the areas of the brain associated with pain. When the currency is removed, making the price a little more ambiguous, this effect is decreased, meaning the pain element is lessened leading to a slightly less money-conscious consumer.

A fascinating study by Cornell University

4. Highlight and guide choice

Though we have already warned against heavy animation on a menu board, that isn’t to say there isn’t a place for selective animation. In some cases adding subtle motion in your menu board designs can be beneficial.

For one of our clients, we created an animated brand element that flies across a three screen menu array, ‘landing’ at specific points to take a breather. Though this movement seems to be random to the uninitiated, the client is actually able, though Pixel’s CMS, to control the path and resting points of the asset. With motion being a key tool in attracting attention, the idea is that you can look to target people’s attention to specific items.

While this execution requires a good deal of coding nous and app development, it is entirely possible to achieve a similar effect using meaningful, pre-rendered animations within the menu content.

Menu board animations can work sometimes

5. QSRs are meant to be quick. Don’t let other content slow you down

At Pixel Inspiration, there are fewer things more infuriating than seeing a digital signage menu board that, just as you are in the middle of deciding what you want to eat, changes to an ad promoting something we are not interested in at that time. Not only is it annoying, it slows down the whole service process, which, for quick service restaurants, isn’t ideal.

A digital signage menu board is there to help the consumer make a decision, and while we have no issue with adverts playing out across another screen, or separate portion of the menu board, it should never take over the main menu.

Below you can find more digital signage menu board tips that can help improve your customer experience, and hopefully boost profits, too. 

6. Think about your text hierarchy

Your largest text should be reserved for menu headings, with sub categories a little smaller, and your menu items a little smaller than that. We are used to large text acting as an entry point, and then progressing through a list via size, so don’t break with convention. And remember, a good a rule of thumb is to increase your text by an inch for every 10 ft. of distance between your board and your customer.

7. Don’t crash text with images

By designing boards where images and text overlap, you will be adding an extra level of complexity that, at best, will prolong the time it takes to find the right information, and, at worst, confuse customers to the point where the board is actually being counter-productive.

8. Consider customers with colour blindness

For those people with perfect vision, it’s often easy to forget that one in 12 men, and one in 200 women are colour blind. Depending on the kind of colour blindness someone has, they might struggle with colours that include red, green, or in some cases blue. But how can you tell what might cause issues for a colour blind person? This Medium post offers some tips.

9. Mix up your messaging

If every piece of type is the some point size, and every image in the same place, all set on the same coloured background, then your menu won’t just be dull, it will also appear intimidating to customers. If you have something that you want to draw attention to, use a background colour such as red, and remember that we are naturally drawn to words such as ‘FREE’.

McDonald's use of menu boards

10. Portrait or landscape?

Think about the screens your menus will appear on, and how they will be situated within the premises. Certain styles will lend themselves better to portrait, and others to landscape, so ensure you know all the specs before diving in. Also, if you’re designing menu boards before knowing the screens you’ll be using, make sure that they can be used in the correct orientation.

11. Get analytical

A digital signage menu board is a fantastic way to test out new offers and products. Thanks to the ease with which you can make changes to your signage, your are perfectly placed to be able to run tests (and even split them across multiple premises an locations). If you’re offering something like a free drink as part of your breakfast menu, design creative with and without the offer, and then alternate it from one day to the next. Then all you need to do is a compare sales for that period.

12. Make sure customers can see an offer

Testing offers is a great way of increasing profits and lowering risk, but unless people are able to see them, you’ll be wasting your time. When promoting a special offer you should use a contrasting colour to the rest of the menu, and increase your text size, keeping character counts to a minimum. We are naturally drawn to pictures, especially those of mouth-watering food and drinks, so use images to grab attention, too.

13. Cut your prices

Cutting prices can be a great way to increase sales, and with digital signage it’s very easy to change your menu board messaging, and trial savings. At all times, though, you must remember the old business adage: turnover’s vanity, profit’s sanity, cash is reality. Your sales may well go up if you slash prices, but so too will your profit margin. And once you’ve started offering sales, you can train your customers to expect special offers, which makes them avoid dining with you if there’s nothing to lure them in. Having said this, used wisely and sparingly, special offers can be a great addition to your signage arsenal.

14. Display ingredients and calories

With many people suffering from allergies and food intolerance, it’s important that people know the key ingredients of a menu item. If you’re using quirky name’s for a dish, then be sure to include what it contains underneath. Also, don’t be scared of adding calorie counts to your digital signage menu board. You might not think this is right for you, but if you are running a health-focused eatery then you should be providing people with this basic information.


15. Prepare in advance

People change their eating and drinking habits based on many factors, so it’s best to prepare your menu for every eventuality. If there’s a heatwave coming, get some special offers lined up on products like milkshakes and lighter lunches. Is it the run up to a big national holiday? Then try theming your menu around that celebration. Also, be reactive to local and global events. Humour is a great way of attracting custom, so if think about your audience and what might resonate (maybe Trump Tuesday could involve a special offer on baloney sandwiches—just an idea).

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