Utilizing traditional back-lit LED frames for menu boards, Pride Stores, a St. Charles, Ill.-based retailer with 12 stores, wanted to step its foodservice program up a notch.
The opportunity arose when the chain built its first free-standing Urban Counter foodservice site (pictured above) in early January.
“We wanted to better showcase our food and drink items, so we installed video screens that can rotate images and menus,” said Mario Spina, The Pride Stores’ CEO. “This was so successful that we then updated all of our Pride Cafes with the screens and also will be installing these in our first free-standing Taco Urbano site.”
While the former menu boards were basic and static, the video screens are capable of rotating graphics with different menu offerings as well as changing the order of food items based on different dayparts.
Customers also can watch 10-12-second videos of food items being prepared. These are rotated with photos around the menu item lists.
“For example, one of the videos shows the steps in making our shaker salad, which is served in a 20-ounce cup to be easily eaten on the go,” said Spina. “We have so many different foodservice offerings, such as crepes, paninis, pasta, orzo salads, espresso drinks and soon Mrs. Field’s cookies, that we needed the ability to rotate items for better marketing capabilities.”
Depending on the location, the video content is either accessed and changed remotely or switched out via USB sticks.
“Not only does this technology provide a better visual of our menu offerings, but it also enhances the presentation of our stores,” said Spina. “We eventually will rotate in specials for three-second increments.”
In recent years, more retailers have been taking advantage of menu board technology that not only serves as a marketing tool, but also can reduce labor at the store level.
MENU BOARD ADVANCES
With foodservice increasingly becoming a differentiating factor in the convenience channel, stores are seeking new presentation methods for products.
Aston, Pa.-based ElectroMenu, a menu board provider, has been focusing on enhancing its technology. The company’s newest line is a self-contained, non-Windows device that operates independently from computers and the internet. It provides users with the ability to change prices and add menu items quickly.
Stores are converting from cloud-based technology and thumb drives to these plug-and-play type systems due to security issues, service attacks and router problems.
Bellefonte, Pa.-based Lykens Market, which has three c-stores in Pennsylvania, utilizes ElectroMenu’s menu boards to display items.
“Our goal was to advertise items like quick-service restaurants, and visibility was an important factor,” said Kacie Lykens, who co-owns the operation with her husband Chris.
Prior to installing ElectroMenu’s technology, the stores used traditional flip menus. With the new systems, all three menu boards can be programmed from the office, with content sent remotely.
“The menu boards are easy to operate,” said Lykens. “It’s important to stay current with technology, and this was the next big thing.”
Land Mark Products Inc., based in Milford, Iowa, implemented ElectroMenu’s menu board technology as part of its Piccadilly foodservice brand in c-stores about three years ago. Its product offerings, including pizza, sandwiches, appetizers and breakfast items, are typically sold in 100-150 square feet of space. The company provides kiosks, branding and graphics.
Video screen proponents say the brighter colors and movement of photos are more eye catching. Plus, the ease of digital management with electronic menu boards creates better management efficiencies across operations with multiple store sites.
With this technology, each screen uses a system attached to the screen, and it’s simple to hook up and program with templets, product shots and videos. These can be programmed to run during different dayparts, days of the week or other durations.
The menu boards can be managed individually or as a group and have WiFi capability to pull content from the internet or can manually transfer files from a USB stick.
Sprint Mart in Tuscumbia, Ala., part of a 75-store chain, installed Origin Menu Boards when the store was remodeled five years ago. The signage content is controlled through the company’s corporate office.
Origin Menu Boards provides a variety of media players with software that can be remotely accessed to make regional or global changes on video boards.
“Any time we need to make changes, we just send the main office an e-mail,” said Brian Timms, retail manager at Sprint Mart. “We have three screens in the store. One is used for advertising our specials, then there’s a stationary deli menu board in the foodservice area, while another screen displays our Hunt Brothers Pizza program menu.”
In addition to saving space, the technology has served as an effective tool to consolidate prices.
CASE FOR KIOSKS
While automated robotic kiosks have infiltrated the quick-serve restaurant segment, this technology has not taken hold as quickly in the convenience channel.
There has been much publicity about McDonald’s deploying iPad-style kiosks at many of its locations as well as Subway and Pizza Hut entering the space with similar systems.
Dean Cline, Jr., president of Chicago’s Cline Consultants, sees kiosks falling into the same category as traditional vending machines.
“Kiosks would take people away from the store, so they would not be exposed to as wide a range of products,” said Cline. “I’d question it from a feasibility standpoint in terms of marketing, impulse sales and upselling.”
This self-serve selling technique may make more sense during off hours, but could impact profits in stores during business hours.
“Also, clogging up pumps with people trying to decide what to purchase from a kiosk also may be detrimental,” said Cline.
In 2015, the University of Illinois’ Springfield campus installed self-contained, automated convenience store kiosks on its campus to complement its other campus amenities, but the program has been discontinued.
Critics of this technology cite problems that include long lines and space limitations, although retailers can benefit from labor savings and cost-cutting.
Still, signs point to robotics as the next retail frontier. A recent article on eater.com reported that a robot burger restaurant will soon be launched in San Francisco with a device developed by Momentum Machines that is capable of producing up to 400 burgers an hour.