Drive-Thru Digital Signage ROI

I posted about an experience at the drive-thru lane at a local QSR recently, and continue to be mystified about the reluctance to address the ROI opportunities available for restaurants that have such a significant percentage of their customers who never darken the door of their restaurants. It makes perfect sense to me that you would address the busiest portal to your restaurant first … and certainly with the commensurate investment that you would make on the interior of the restaurant. With so many QSRs outfitting the interior of their restaurants with digital, updated fixtures, colorful graphics, and efficiency oriented improvements, why wouldn’t you do the same for the window that does the bulk of your business?

I think about it as simple math – the improvements you make to engage customers pay off dependent on the number that you can influence. Most QSRs report the two-thirds of their traffic is coming via the drive-thru. If that’s the case, why wouldn’t you spend double the investment for your outdoor audience, as compared to what you have spent on your indoor audience? Taking simple, round numbers, consider that you might spend $8 – $12k getting your indoor digital menus done right. You’ve done the ROI calculation and determined that the combined efficiency and revenue lift gives you a twelve-month return. It would be logical to expect that you could spend $16 – $24k at the drive-thru and expect the same twelve-month return. Right?  Make sense? Am I connecting on this at all?

I understand that the drive-thru is different. I also understand that equipping the drive-thru with digital alone is not the answer. You have to prepare for the future now, and the future says folks at the drive-thru are going to expect more than the same experience they’ll get inside the restaurant. They’ll want quicker service, mobile ordering, easy payment options, and all the variety they get when they come inside. While you have to be prepared to step into the new paradigm of “I want it now” technology, it doesn’t mean you have to wait on getting the compulsory components in place. For most of you, this means getting the drive-thru equipped with some sort of outdoor digital menu board.

As recently as 2016, most of us looked at outdoor digital signage and said: “That’s a boatload of money.” The good news is that the technology continues to get more affordable each year and the cost is now low enough that the ROI for these installations is surpassing the ROI of the interior Digital Menu Boards. Like most significant restaurant initiatives, dealing with the drive-thru has to be done strategically and with an understanding of what is coming next. My conversations with progressive QSR chains have helped me to reorient how I think about this, so I thought I’d share 5 key points of wisdom that I have recently collected from the movers and shakers in the industry:

  1. You must do a thorough analysis of what you need to get the displays in the right spot at the drive-thru. Regardless of whether you’re doing a pre-sale merchandiser WHAT DO WE WANT TO CALL THIS or a multi-screen DMB, you’ll need to get power and network to it. This could mean trenching and an electrical/network run, and that’s a cost you can’t ignore. You may also need a concrete pad to install the Digital Menu Board array on, so you’ll have to plan for where that will be located.
  2. Outdoor Digital Menu Boards do cost more because of the panels and the protection that is built in. Cheap digital signage is generally not good digital signage. Remember that all displays are not equal. Consider durability, brightness, size, and potential for replacement. You also want to think about how the display manufacturer has prepared for the future and not limited you to using only today’s technology forever. But, despite the higher cost of outdoor digital signage, the gap has closed and you’ll be surprised at your latest ROI projections – even for the nicer outdoor digital menu boards.
  3. Whether indoor or outdoor, what you put on your Digital Menu Boards is the key consideration. You can trick out your drive-thru and it will all be wasted if the content is not done thoughtfully and professionally. Remember that you must have key objectives at the drive-thru – increase revenue, speed throughput, improve experience, drive LTO acceptance, etc. You may have more than one and they may be driven by daypart. Just make sure your content is in sync with your objectives and then make sure it looks great, is optimized for performance, and has the appropriate “food appeal”.
  4. Maximize your operational efficiency by integrating with all of your other systems. POS, KDS, Loyalty, NFC, Proximity … if you have it, make sure you can connect with it. You may even want to look at a business rules system so you can develop predictive capabilities at the drive-thru and pre-determine what people will buy depending on the trends, weather, events, and demographics.
  5. Justify the spend by really doing the ROI analysis up front. As I mentioned earlier, if you can justify the in-Restaurant Digital Signage ROI, you can likely justify the Outdoor Digital Menu Boards. Most QSR owners I’ve spoken with believe that their ability to influence at the drive-thru is increased, because so many of the customers are inclined to buy on impulse. They have kids in the car, distractions, and time constraints – why not take advantage of that opportunity to engage and influence them. If you do that right, the ROI will be better than you’re getting indoors.

It’s time to seriously consider Digital Menu Boards for the Fast Food Drive-Thru. The cost has fallen enough that it’s a mistake to not consider it right now. Give us a shout at CRI if you need some help with pricing or with ROI modeling. I think you’ll be surprised by the numbers!

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