Menu Board Costs Defined

Not too long ago I was approached by a gentleman who was interested in some custom menu boards. Each panel would have been larger then what most would consider a standard size. We have a wood frame option but he wanted double the width on it, the stain was to be different from what our stock options would be, he wanted lug-ons for headers and a tilted wall mount. For the record, all of this is VERY doable.  After taking this all in to consideration, I gave him a ballpark idea on price.  His budget was almost half of the price I provided.  Cost-BenefitHe didn’t get it; “why is it so much, it is just a sign?”  Now this isn’t the first time I heard this so I wasn’t taken aback by the question.  In his defense, I get it… well to a degree.  He wasn’t asking for anything overly sophisticated or revolutionary, it was some simple spins on already existing products.  Speaking of which, from time to time I have been asked the same “why so much?” question regarding standard products.  There seems to be a misconception that menu copy is turned over and, voila, menu boards are on their way with no legwork in between.  With all of this in mind, I thought I would highlight the reasons as to why menu boards are priced how they are which end up being quite reasonable considering the TLC the end-user receives.

Menu Boards aren’t just signs- There are a lot of automated systems and website where you can log on, choose a template or upload your own art, select the type of sign (i.e. banner, poster, etc) and place your order.  These transactions are quick and made with no human interaction.  We actually looked at this model and tried to apply it to menu boards.  We programmed a “Menu Board Builder” (MBB) for our site thinking people would be open to buying a system online and, given the tools, would design their own menu boards.  We sold hundreds of menu boards the year the MBB was introduced and exactly 3 used the system from start to finish.  It is indisputable that menu boards require a lot more attention then your everyday sign, and rightfully so.  As stated in the past, the menu boards are often your primary source for influencing purchasing decisions and impacting sales in the store.

The design phase (AKA the X Factor)- The design phase is the X Factor because I have seen it take a couple of days and I have seen it take months.  Whether the menu board is standard or custom there is always the need to define the contents of the boards.  Even in those lesser occasions when the artwork is provided there is still design “facilitation” that is needed.  For instance, coordinating trim sizes and bleeds, the acceptable file formats, putting the designs on to a layout form for approval, etc.  In the more common scenario where menu board companies do the designs, it goes a little something like this:
1- Designer consults with client on needs/wants from a layout perspective
2- Designer waits for applicable menu copy, pictures and logo to be sent
3- (In a lot of cases) Designer spends time looking for pictures that will work for the client
4- The first layout is worked on and presented
5- Designer waits for feedback.  With feedback, makes revisions and sends
6- Repeat step 5 (this could happen a few more times)
7- Designer receives approval on layout
8- Designer has to take “for proof only” files and now set them up for production.  He/she sends them

Material cost- This is where people get hung up sometimes.  Drive-thru- “It is just a metal box with a light in it.”  Menu Boards- “it is just a stainless panel with magnets on it.”  I have even been asked what our square foot price is on the substrate of the menu board and the graphic prints and what we pay for our packaging materials.  It is all laughable (inside) to me but on-the-whole the material cost(s) make up just a sliver of the overall cost in getting from point A to out-the-door.

How many hands they touch- I can only speak to our process however I am sure it is loosely similar throughout the industry.  From the time the order is placed and out the door, a menu board system will have touched many a hand or crossed many a desk.  It goes something like this, Sales > Project Manager > Designer > Production (printing, fabrication, assembly) > Shipping & Handling.  All of these folks have to be compensated for their time and happen to work in a building that has to be paid for and with equipment that wasn’t free.

Expertise- When a lot of people think of “expertise” they think of the person or people they are dealing with.  Yes, menu board companies have people trained in this specific space so they can best serve their customers, however not enough focus is put on the products themselves.  Menu board companies have spent the money and allocated resources on the drawings, design-work, engineering, and refinement of products that are sustainable over time in most QSR environments.  From the legible text size on a graphic to the plexi and viewing angle of a drive-thru, to how the graphics and strips are inserted and removed; this has all been tried, tested and proven.  So can you save a couple of bucks by going with ABC Sign Co. and getting that “metal box with a light in it” for a drive-thru?  Maybe, but is it going to be rated for 150 MPH winds?  What type of carrier system does it have for graphics?  What are they doing to make sure it stays ventilated?  What happens if there is an issue with your one-off?  How are they ensuring that it is weather proof?  Enjoy!

Another way to look at the entire scenario; Consider that $2.50 slice of pizza ($.35 ingredient cost) that you get from the local pizzeria. Now think about the the process; mixing ingredients, letting rise, keeping cool in a $5000 refrigerator, then kneading and making sauce and cooking in $20k oven.  In addition, companies are in the business of making money.

Does this all make sense?  Do you have any comments or questions?  If so, please leave them below or email us at or give us at 888-235-2579.