Anyone who frequents quick-service restaurants will have noticed a change in the past few years as they’ve walked in and looked up at the printed menus behind and above the order counter. Those menus are now digital.

Some of the largest fast-food chains, or quick-service restaurants (QSRs), as they’re known in the industry, have already converted their printed menu boards to LCD displays. Now, the same thing is starting to happen outside these restaurants in the drive-thru lanes that, for many chains, represent a huge percentage of sales.

The NPD Group, a market research firm, estimates that 50 to 70 percent of fast-food sales happen in the drive-thru lane. That’s in an industry that does an estimated $200 billion in annual sales across some 240,000 locations.

Futuresource Consulting suggested in 2014 that just one percent of the potential market for outdoor displays had so far been tapped, and pegged the potential market for them at 7.2 million units globally.

Digital Signage Goes Outdoors

The impacts of presell, menu and order confirmation screens in the drive-thru lane are clear:

  • Digital outdoor displays with static or moving content get noticed, and their messages are recalled.
  • Messages can be changed remotely and scheduled by time of day, week or location.
  • Digital introduces engagement though interactive touch, and it creates bridges to other technologies like smartphones and payment and ordering systems, which can provide a superior customer experience.
  • Compliance rates — a measure of the percentage of marketing material that appears where it should, when it should — skyrocket when campaigns are planned and executed by a central office.
  • Digital displays can leverage the Internet of Things and customer data to present content and messaging based on certain conditions. In a drive-thru, for example, smart systems could enable a presell display to suggest adding a pastry when a customer orders a coffee.

A huge wave of QSRs will be converting drive-thru posters to networked outdoor displays in the next few years. “They’re going to convert because they’ve seen how converting menus inside their restaurants to digital paid off and lifted sales on high-margin items,” said Ralph Idems, chief operating officer of Vertigo Digital Displays, a specialty display firm focused on outdoor applications. “And they expect the same will happen in the drive-thru lanes.”

Improved Experiences

The drive-thru experience is all about convenience and speed. It works best when the line moves quickly, motorists have the choices in front of them and the orders get processed accurately. Digital displays serve all these needs. QSR chains are using sets of screens to handle the full drive-thru journey:

  • Preselling promotional displays highlight new or high-margin items, viewable before motorists are at the order station
  • Digital menus adjust according to time of day, showing breakfast items as the sun rises and snacks as the day runs down
  • Order confirmation screens ensure accurate orders
  • Some QSRs, like Starbucks, are even adding live video sessions so customers can see who’s filling their order (instead of just a mysterious, remote voice)

Advances in Display Technology

The move outside is happening for several reasons, the biggest being reduced costs, better technology and higher reliability. But putting screens outside is challenging. The outdoor displays have to be bright enough to cut through direct sunlight. They have to live in their own sealed environments to survive the elements year-round. And they need to work flawlessly, in a business where an out-of-order menu screen can have a catastrophic impact on drive-thru orders.

Modern outdoor-rated display panels have made a huge difference, and are helping stimulate the rise in drive-thru screen adoption. Illuminated by energy-efficient, cool LEDs instead of lighting tubes, this new breed of displays runs much cooler, draws on far less power and provides the reliability needed for the job. Greater production volumes and efficiencies have also lowered costs.

Drive-thru technology will continue to change, and digital displays are playing a central role. As more and more payments are made using smartphones and NFC-enabled cards, screens at the order window will help drive consumer awareness, understanding, confidence and usage.

Take a look at the infographic below to learn more about why QSRs are making outdoor displays part of their orders.


Why QSRs Make Outdoor Displays Part of Their Orders from Samsung Business USA