Digital Signage Poised to Change the Restaurant Industry

TinersTakeDS-featuredThe concept of “digital signage” continues to grow in exponential ways. The concept of a digital board replacing a traditional sign is almost a given. We see them everywhere, and they don’t stick out to us quite as much as they used to. Now, the buzzwords have to do with interactivity, as well as the second screen.

In my view, there are many industries that can benefit from this interaction, one of the biggest being the restaurant industry. Applebee’s has recently announced that it will start using tablets in its restaurants. According to an article in Business Week, the restaurant chain is initiating this change because customers have told them the thing they hate the most is waiting for their bill.

Certainly, I can understand this feeling. I am one of those people who give my card to the waitress as soon as I get my entree to be sure I don’t have to wait 15 minutes for the bill when I am done eating. The chain plans on allowing customers to order drinks, desserts and pay their bills from the tablets. Applebee’s feels that customers will leave happier not having to sit around waiting, and will allow them to turn the tables over faster.

I am interested to also see what the other possibilities of the “second screen” will be for Applebee’s. Certainly, the tablets could be a full menu, that allow diners to order their food when they are ready. Using a tablet the diners could see pictures of every entree, dessert, drink and appetizer on the menu. Allowing customers to order from the tablets would help the impulse purchase of extra drinks and appetizers. How many times have you spent ten minutes looking for your waitress so you can order a second drink, only to be done your meal by the time you get it? What if you could order it from the tablet, and the order goes directly to the bar, and gets sent over by an available waitress? Maybe, you would end up purchasing a third drink, which means more money for the restaurant.

You don’t need to be a national chain in order to benefit from this technology. Your local sports bar would be a great place for this technology. Locally owned restaurants could benefit from technology by being able to push certain dishes or drinks. I envision an app on the tablets designed specifically for the restaurant. Like the Applebee’s app, there would be a full menu, and you can order from it. But, you could customize this for your restaurant. For example, if you had a special you wanted to push, you could feature it on the app. The feature would include pictures, descriptions and costs.

Now, what about the customer who comes in and is not quite sure what she wants? How about an app that walks them through some questions? Do you feel like beef, chicken or fish? Do you like spicy food or sweet food? Once you have narrowed down your entree, the app could suggest what drinks would go well with the selection. Perhaps it could even suggest some good appetizers for your particular choices.

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The hold out for this type of change is clearly going to be the money that will need to be invested. There is definitely an initial investment, so the smart integrator is going to put some numbers on paper to present to the restaurateur about where they will spend, save and make money. An obvious money saver will be the removal of all the paper menus. Perhaps, you let the customer bring in their own second screen. A simple QR code at each table could be scanned to load the app on their phone, and indicate which table they are at for ordering purposes. You certainly would need to purchase some tablets, but you would not need a tablet for every potential customer. You could even offer a discount for customers who use their own devices. Personally as a germ-o-phobe, I would love to use my own device and not have to worry about touching the menu or tablet that dozens of other people have touched.

In a venue like a sports bar, there could also be integration with the digital signs and monitors already on the wall.  Customers could use the apps on their devices to “cheer” on a team with messages on the boards. Is there some guy on the other side of the bar cheering on the “wrong” team? Challenge them to a bet for a beer and let the rest of the venue take in the action with you. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Another enormous benefit of these digital menus is the flexibility of providing calorie information. There have been big pushes in the country over the past several years to get calorie information on our menus. However, the restaurant industry has fought back, essentially saying that one cannot possibly include all the options on a menu or a sign.  Does your steak have garlic butter on it, blue cheese on it or some other topping? What if you substitute mashed potatoes for french fries? The app would make this a simple calculation and allow the customer to try out several different scenarios. Heck, they could even put in a calorie limit as they stepped through their preferences for food.

One of the most amazing benefits for integrators is that this would be a massive money maker. There is some equipment to sell (which you don’t make money on) and a lot of integration and creative work (the things that really bring in the cash). Like so much of the AV and digital signage industry today, you also need a very integrated company. You would need your IT guys on board, your creative team on board and your programmers (both for systems and apps) on board.

What do you think? Is the restaurant industry on the verge of some exciting changes? Would the costs of these technologies make them approachable for the smaller local establishments? Does your company have the right people in place to strike gold in this new market? Touch base with me and let me know your thoughts!