If I were to ask you what restaurant you thought had the very first drive-thru window ever, what would your guess be?

If you guessed McDonalds (like I did) you’re wrong.

The very first drive-thru window popped up in Springfield, Missouri in 1947 at a burger joint known as Red’s Giant Hamburg. Drive-up restaurants were already in full swing at this point, but it was Red’s that started the trend of ordering food by talking to an invisible person through a two-way speaker.

The first chain restaurant to adopt the concept was Jack In The Box. McDonalds didn’t actually hop on board until 1975.

The more you know, right?

Now drive-thru windows are everywhere, it seems. A more sophisticated, savvy, two-way speaker has taken the place of the old, clunky one. LCD screens display your order to ensure accuracy. And videos of sparkling, ice-cold sodas and fresh grilled burgers are taking the place of traditional 2D images.

Things are changing.

If you’re considering a digital drive-thru board for your quick service restaurant, you may have some reservations. Many do when they begin exploring unchartered territory. That’s why we put together this handy blog post to share with you 5 reasons why you need a digital drive-thru board.

#1 – It’s a Great Return On Investment

I started with this reason because money is often the greatest barrier between where we are now and where we want to be.

We want to be into the space of the digital signage realm.
We want to see our sales increase.
We want to see our brand and our products loved by all.
And we want our investments to be returned to us as quickly as possible.

For starters, know this: While the initial investment of any outdoor signage can be pricey, studies show the ROI after the installation of an outdoor menu comes fairly quickly. According to an article published by Digital Signage Today, Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) that utilize indoor and outdoor digital signage see a 5 to 8 percent increase in revenue.

The increase, in part, can be attributed to easy-to-read menus with more food options. If boards are jam packed with too many images or words, it can fluster a customer.

Simple is always the most effective.

Slim Chickens, a QSR chain based in Arkansas, is a perfect example of a fast food restaurant that is seeing financial gain after investing in an outdoor digital drive-thru menu board.

When the chicken chain moved to a full upgrade of digital menu boards both inside and out at 14 locations, Slim Chickens co-founder Greg Smart said the sales impact was immediate in the first store where they were implemented.

Slim Chicken’s sweet treat sales doubled, and the amount of time a customer spent at the drive-thru display actually went down, thanks to the simplicity and content rotation of the digital display.

“We have the sign set to populate the display with new content automatically every 5 minutes,” said Smart.

Smart is smart.

He understands that by rotating and repopulating the content to display more options, customers are more apt to buy additional items, even if it’s as small as a 70¢ add-on.

The initial investment of a 5-figure outdoor menu board may be what’s keeping you from investing. It may seem overwhelming. But when you consider the results other QSR’s are having, creating a similar strategy can give you a similar ROI.

All you need is a dollar, a dream, and a drive-thru.

#2 – Ditch The Poles & Ladders

I remember when my family took us through the drive-thru of McDonalds as a special treat. (This was well before fast food got a bad rap and was all the rage.)

As we pulled around to look at the menu board, we were paused by a young man in a McDonalds hat and shirt, balancing himself ever so carefully on a ladder in front of the menu board.

He was updating the price of a happy meal, which, in unrelated news, didn’t make my mother very happy.

Nor did the guy down the road removing the 7’s from a gas sign with an extension pole. He was replacing them with 9’s and kept missing the mark, if you will, as he attempted to smack the 7 into place on the board.

For both these employees, updating pricing was a balancing act.

Of course, more importantly is the ability to quickly change information, and being able to ensure that every location is up-to-date immediately, instead of delegating the task to 900 store managers across the U.S.

With outdoor digital signage, there is no balancing act. Prices and products can be instantly updated. Instead of investing in sign changes or overhauls and the employees that go with it, you can invest in an outdoor menu board instead, one that communicates all of your changes quickly and updates those changes directly to your POS system.

Between the POS updates (which could take a while, depending on time, manpower and POS units) and manual price and product changes, something that used to take several hours can take just a few minutes.

#3 – Reduce Wait Time

In general, people don’t like to wait. We are a society that wants to go into an establishment, get what we want, and get out.

In a 2014 QSR report, statistics showed that the longest time a person will wait on average at a drive-thru window is 203 seconds. (3.38 minutes.) Any longer than that, and they head down the road to the next establishment.

Now here’s the interesting part: The lines at the drive-thru are actually getting slower, this according to the same report.

With so many of us running here and there to take care of our children and fulfill obligations, busy parents and professionals find QSR’s a convenient meal solution; they just so happen to show up at the drive-thru all at the same time.

In 2012 the average wait time at a drive-thru window was 173 seconds.
In 2013 it was 181 seconds.
In 2014, it hit a record high of 203 seconds.

Getting food into the hands of drive-by customers has been the competitive edge for the QSR industry since Red started the trend in 1947. As it were, the biggest fast-food chains do 60% to 70 % of their business at the drive-thru. That’s a fair chunk. So it’s crucial to reduce the wait time to stay competitive.

By making digital menu boards simple, attractive, and easy to navigate, it takes the anxiety out of outdoor ordering and ultimately speeds up the process.

 #4– Better Upsell Opportunities

Upselling is a super important concept in the restaurant industry. Word on the street is that digital menu boards are the “Silent Seller.” No salesman, no pitch, just enticing images, intriguing offers, and darn good food.

With these three things combined, upselling can be a cinch.

When high-resolution outdoor digital menu boards boast cleaner images with easy to see options, choosing extra cheese or double pickles is a no brainer. Hungry customers will want to savor taste over savings.

Here’s an interesting tidbit that can increase your sales even more:
Place your upsells on the right side of the menu board. Studies show that buyers tend to purchase goods listed on the right side as opposed to the left.

Because you can control the content on your board, changing items and adding promotions based on customer demand can also increase sales. Pay attention to what sells when, and bring those promotions back at the same time next year. Follow the trends.

It can be a turn off for some to have workers ask, “Do you want fries with that? Would you like to make that a large soft drink for only 79¢ more?”

Maybe we do want the large soft drink, but maybe we don’t want the nice lady behind the counter asking us if we want it… So ask the question silently with a digital menu board instead.

Oh, and put those upsell options on the right. See what happens when you do.

#5– It Can Remove Anxiety

We touched on this for a second but the research is fascinating, so I wanted to touch on it a bit more.

There are thousands of people all over the world that actually struggle with drive-thru anxiety. They fear a plethora of things, including ordering the wrong item.

Almost three decades ago, the consulting firm for Burger King came up with an innovative marketing idea to place banners and signs along the path leading up to the ordering area to help alleviate any anxiety.

It was determined that consumers often panicked when prompted with the question, ‘Can I take your order?’” Burger King wanted to alleviate this.

By strategically placing the promotional signs on the path to goodness, it actually helped remove any panic, giving drive-thru patrons more immediate options when they were prompted with the question.

Another way to say it is that it removed the friction from ordering, which lessened wait time, and keeps the customer happy.

If you simplify the ordering strategy, customers can leave the panic behind and move forward to the tasty burger instead.

Conclusion

As drive-thru digital signage continues to pop up, it’s safe to say that “the drive thru will be at the forefront of even more quick-serve innovation.” Rick Elliot, director of food services drive-thru solutions at Panasonic Systems Corporation of North America, said this of the growing digital drive-thru trend.

Digital is easier to update and change, leaving ladders and extension poles in the garage to be used for other purposes. Posters and banners are still effective, and making them part of the digital storm outdoors can help increase your ROI.

By changing offers and combo meals at lunch and adding additional dessert items at dinner, QSR’s can begin reaping the financial rewards of the digital drive-thru.

These are our 5 reasons why you need a digital menu board. What are yours?

When you do drive-thru, what side of the menu do you look at? Have you experienced buying from a digital menu outdoors?