The Future of Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Signage Explained by Peter Critchley
Quick service restaurants (QSR) are expected to be a big driver of digital signage sales over the new few years, as uses range from in-window screens, ordering kiosks and weather-targeted product displays. We spoke to Peter Critchley, managing director of the Beaver Group, about his experiences, challenges, and what other sectors can learn from QSRs.
Can you explain the Beaver Group's offerings and how you use digital signage?
The Beaver Group has been in the digital signage industry since 1998, back when it was known as multi-media, or computer television.
In the last 20 years, the market has changed considerably. The market is not 'just' digital signage - it's now about digital places, spaces, and experiences.
We talk to retail, corporate and hospitality clients about the best ways to get messages across. People used to focus on showpiece installations, such as large format screens on walls or LED, because it was sophisticated technology. However, now consumers understand more about TVs, conveying a message in this way has become harder.
Our overriding first question is "What's the value for the consumer?". You can deploy a lot of very clever technology but it always has to help the viewer and their experience. To do this properly, you need a lot of planning, thought, and implementation, and there may be refinements after installation.
For us, digital signage is an element of an experience. We no longer simply evangelize about "Get digital signage", we now tailor our solutions based on the client's message, how they want to communicate it, what their customers are looking for and how we can drive value.
Manufacturers naturally talk about technology, but we spend as little time as possible talking about screens. For us, it's more about the message. I think screen manufacturers, such as Samsung, are now aware of this as they’ve made content delivery easier by integrating system on chip solutions.
Focusing on your work in the food industry, can you explain how digital is changing the landscape for quick service restaurants (QSR) in particular?
Today, digital is helping QSRs deliver the right promotional campaigns at the right time to the right customers. This is very difficult to achieve in a paper-based environment but with increasingly pronounced cost base targets for retail units, the staff employed and the product they’re selling, it’s essential.
Digital reduces the risk of non-compliance. For example, without digital, it's easy for the 'Breakfast' menu to remain on display when it is 'Lunch'. The operators we work with are keen to remove the manual responsibility from the store's staff. This allows customer service agents to concentrate on up-selling, educating, helping and engaging with guests, rather than changing menus.
What is the digital innovation that you think has been the biggest disruption for the QSR industry so far?
The biggest digital change to the food service market has been the introduction of contactless card payment. This is for two reasons: the increased speed of queues and the ability to increase average transaction values.
Regarding digital signage and QSR specifically, the technology enables you to promote the right food at the right time of day and even based on weather. The ability to change hot food promotions to cold food promotions is very important. However, print requires a 12-week turnaround. Because of this, print use means food retailers blend their hot and cold food promotions in one advert.
With digital, there is more flexibility. Retailers can offer promotions that match the current weather. This level of flexibility is crucial and can have a significant impact on the profitability of the business.
What are some of the challenges the digital signage QSR sector is facing?
Creative agencies are struggling to catch up with the medium of digital signage in food retail. There are two main challenges. The first is that digital design needs to be uncluttered, and secondly, creatives need to understand how they can make the best use of the technology.
There are still world-leading brands trying very hard to sell everything to everyone, which can lead to 'menu blindness'. Consumers want to be told clearly and simply what they should buy. It's the same age-old question that you'd ask a waiter in the restaurant - "What do you recommend?", which can be answered if the digital signage is effective.
We ensure our clients do not list every single product on their overhead digital screens or digital posters. They need to show a full tariff in store at some point on a printed menu or a digital screen, but we make sure that the digital menus show the core products that they want to supply and sell, not everything.
Regarding our work, two other challenges are the rise of mobile and encouraging return customers. However, we also see these as opportunities for new trends.
How you engage the customer with signage when they have a screen in their pocket is a continuing challenge. This is something we've been working on for a while. Another challenge is creating a compelling reason for consumers to return. Digital has a part to play in this, whether through loyalty, experiences that are created or personalization.
Those are the things that, specifically with the food retail market, are the refinements we're working on at the moment and the ones that are going to drive value for the consumer.
How do you persuade restaurateurs to understand the value of digital signage?
We have data that backs up the increase of average transaction values, improved perception of the brand from consumers, and the return on investment time frame that you can expect from a professional implementation. We also use existing case studies and talk about customer experiences.
If you implement and present digital signage correctly with the brand core values, you can see a return on investment quite quickly. But if you don’t do it appropriately, it will take a lot longer.
What is the most significant digital trend that you expect to see grow in the QSR industry?
Historically, there has been a drive around separate media players and digital signage screens but the trend of system on chip continues to grow. This can drive a simple, cost-effective and compelling solution and is particularly important for the food industry. We will naturally migrate towards more system on chip. Several of our corporate clients are already using Samsung's solution.
The challenge for us as an integrator and using system on chip is the power and capability of the systems embedded into the screens. However, Tizen 3 and Tizen 4 are both powerful operating systems that have been designed for people like us and allow us to integrate our Signage Ninja management software. With this, we can create compelling content synchronized across multiple screens which deliver an impressive experience to consumers.
Beyond quick service restaurants, could you explain how digital signage technology can be used in the wider food industry for more 'traditional' restaurants (such as your signage in the window of Pizza Express)?
Internal signage in restaurants can work for certain brands. One of the messages that can be communicated in this way is provenance. Restaurant diners want to know where their food comes from and the core values of the brand. Internal signage can, therefore, work for brands invested in their corporate social responsibility.
There is also the opportunity to show contextual information about the local environment, such as traffic, travel information, and weather. However, this depends on where the restaurant is located and the overall branding.
The in-window screens work for a broader set of traditional restaurant food brands. The requirement to communicate who you are and what you sell is important to everyone. We’ve worked with the likes of Pizza Express and Bella Italia to help display their food offers outside.
But once you're inside, it's the job of the serving staff, not signage to tell you about new items on the menu and promotions. This matches consumer’s expectations. Trying to insert signage here doesn't add value for the customer, and can make things harder. However, a handheld device that gives serving staff easy access to the latest promotions makes sense. They can then communicate this information to the diner.
Signage should add to the experience, not take away. Digital isn't always welcome and we have to recognize that. Sometimes, such as within traditional restaurants, it is not the right time or place.
Are there any learnings you have taken from your experience in the food industry and applied to your work in retail/hospitality, cinema, and corporate industries?
Within the food sector, we have found that times of day, such as breakfast, lunch, afternoon and evening are often a core part of signage programming. This can be utilized in other sectors.
In cinemas, for example, you can split by matinee and evening showings. This is fairly similar but we also use day parts in innovative ways for the corporate sector.
For the blue-chip companies we work with, there was no obvious, logical reason to focus on day parts other than showing a lunchtime menu. However, over the past few years, we have begun day parting in terms of messaging by considering how people structure their own days.
We now focus on the coffee break, lunch, afternoon breaks and evening. However, this is not just in terms of food but also the different times people start and finish work. We think about the windows of time people are coming in or leaving, as well as how people's brains work at that particular time. Placing messaging in the right context and location will help communicate more effectively.
Learnings from the food retail have improved what we do in the corporate sector. Initially, they seem very different but for both audiences, we don't have a lot of time to convey our messaging. Whether they are in the corporate sector transiting between buildings or a consumer choosing their lunch, they both need messages to be communicated quickly.
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