Menu Boards: Strips & Digits or Full Graphics?

Having been involved in the menu board industry for as long as I have, you get to know the questions that are going to be asked well before they actually are.  ”What sizes do you have?  Do you do the design work?  How long will it take for me to get the menu boards? (and obviously) How much do they cost?”  However, the question that I want to address and what comes up more often than not is, “Do your menu boards have strips and digits?”  The way in which this question gets asked differs from time to time but the underlying reason is always the same, they want to know if they will be able to change their menu board items and pricing whenever they want.  However, is this the best way to go about it? Would using full graphics make more sense?  There are compelling arguments to each side.

The Strips & Digits Argument

On the surface, using strips and digits seems to be the logical choice for everyone to use.  If an item isn’t selling, you take it off and replace it with something else.  Your cost of dairy goes up; you change your selling prices to make up for the difference.  There is no denying that there is value to having this type of capability.  However the benefit of using strips and digits shouldn’t be limited to flexibility.  Simply defaulting to this way of doing things because you think it is the right thing to do is not the answer.  Recognizing if you are in the situation where it makes the most sense is when you should take advantage of it.

For example:

Volatile supplier pricing - We now live in a day and age where month by month or even week by week the price for certain ingredients or items can change, thus affecting profitability. Being able to adjust pricing to coincide with these fluctuations makes certain that you can maintain the same level of gross profit.

Rotating menu – This is seen quite frequently in school and corporate cafeterias as well as military bases where the menus change daily to keep people coming back.  Not being able to change your items quickly and easily would be counterproductive to these arrangements.

Market Testing vs. Market Research – The leg work has been done.  You have found the right location, selected your menu, branded your identity, acquired all the permits and taken care of all the other red tape that is required before opening.  Now you are open and you have set your pricing based on assumptions, not really knowing what the market will bear.  Where you may have gone light on the market research, you are now in a position of casting your pricing to the masses and seeing what sticks (market testing).  You can change your menu items and prices accordingly.

Menu Board Graphics | Restaurant Signage

The Full Graphics Argument

Using full graphics for menu boards is typically NOT the preferred choice for the reasons listed above.  However, the more and more you look around nowadays you’ll notice that a lot of the heavy hitters are in the process of abandoning strips and digits (i.e. Panda Express, Burger King, etc.) or have used full graphics all along (i.e. Starbucks, Panera Bread, etc.).  Why would they be moving away from such flexibility?  It makes no sense, right?

Not necessarily…

The pricing is comparable – When companies are looking to swap out their menu strips for new, a $10-15/strip cost usually comes associated with it.  Rarely are people going to be bothered to make a single strip purchase and will wait for a small handful to make the order worthwhile.  What often happens is they end up paying more for new strips than what it would cost for a new full graphic with the appropriate changes.  As for price changes, low-tac pricing digits can be used to change pricing as you see fit.

The menu boards look way better – With strip and digit menus you are limited to modular, chunky designs that tend to lack in the appeal department.  When using full graphics, not only do you have more design area but you have a canvas that is unlimited in terms of using pictures and watermarks.  In addition, over time the strips and digits tend to separate and, if not handled with diligence and care, it begins to appear like a puzzle gone wrong.

Changes shouldn’t be done haphazardly – Price and menu changes shouldn’t be done on a whim.  Most restaurants have an online presence and thousands of print menus that are circulating.  Changing your menu items or pricing may seem simple at the local level, but when you consider the man hours and cost to update the POS system, website and print menus, you begin to realize that this should be given more thought.

To Summarize

Here is a review of the main points of this blog post:

  • There are pros and cons to using strip and digit menu boards or full graphics.
  • Strip and digit menu boards work better if there is volatile supplier pricing or a rotating menu and allows for market testing.
  • Full graphics portray a more pristine image for a comparable price, while preventing haphazard menu changes.
  • When deciding on a menu board solution, all of these factors must be taken into consideration.  Partnering with a company with industry knowledge and an expertise in restaurant display signage can help you determine which solution is best to meet your specific needs.