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Why Aren’t Digital Menu Boards More Widespread?

I don’t travel as extensively as I once did, but I’m still blessed to get around our beautiful country, and occasionally outside of it, a few times a year. As a long-time digital signage vet (they say once you start, you can’t stop!) I always notice digital signage and Building Map Designs wherever I go.

One question I have is why aren’t there more digital menu boards out there? It has always seemed to be a logical application of digital signage. Beyond the talk of an FDA mandate for nutritional data, digital menus are often billed as an easy way to update menus, add animations of certain content (e.g. steam coming off a hamburger), push specials during certain times, integrate with POS inventories (“stop selling burritos when the tortillas are gone”!), and more.

Despite the myriad of reasons to implement digital menu boards, most restaurants I go to don’t have them. Here are four reasons why I believe digital menus will become more widespread.

1.Decreasing Cost of Hardware (Displays and Players)

Historically, displays have been fairly expensive, which has stymied growth into commercial use. While most Americans have TVs in their living rooms (at least 96.7% according to Nielson), the numbers need to work for businesses to make the leap from paper/poster/dry erase board to digital. As supply chains tighten and demand grows, the price of televisions is dropping. We see this both with retail televisions, and commercial TVs (in various sales, though data isn’t readily available).

Another component of the hardware required to implement digital signage is the “player” – typically a device running a propriety software on Windows, Android or even Linux. These players range anywhere from $35.00 to $1,200.00 – a Linux based Raspberry Pi 3 on the low end (case not included), to a Windows-based unit with Intel processor on the high end (think Windows 10 Pro with Intel i7.

We find that in certain situations a Raspberry Pi is sufficient. These are no-frills devices, that excel at playing HTML5/“web” content. We recommend finding a device in the mid-range that bundles some hardware monitoring software. Bright Sign is a great choice, with hardware costs from $350.00 to $850.00 and built-in device management. The $350.00 HD222 is plenty for digital menu boards. If these prices don’t seem right, Google has also entered the market with their Chrome Box (available from DELL, ASUS, HP, ACER, and others) and SaaS-based device management.

2. Reduced Cost of Software

Software is an aspect of your investment that deserves research and planning. Software is often confused with “content.” But, it is the toolset that you need to do things like load new content, schedule an image or video for a time of day, remotely restart screens, and more.

Feature-rich software for digital signage is most often required when you’re building an interactive kiosk, incorporating wayfinding (plotting location on a building map), integrating with a database, etc. In the case of digital menu boards, displaying static graphics is sufficient for most users. Your options for software are many, and oftentimes free! Doing your research and being familiar with your team’s skillsets will help you here. Even though some software will allow you to, “update menu data from a spreadsheet,” it’s actually easier for your design team to export a new image from Photoshop. While including animations is nice, expect additional hardware requirements and higher costs per unit if you add a lot of video to your digital menu boards.

Even among providers of feature-rich solutions, it’s clear that to compete in the menu board space, their prices need to be lower. Look for a monthly cost of around $30.00 or an upfront cost of $1000.00 max for software. All that said, you should be able to find a free software product that will more than serve your needs for a single digital menu.

3. Better Uptime (Menus Can’t “Go Down!”)

Nothing can be more detrimental to a restaurant’s quality of service than a turned-off screen in place of a menu. We regularly hear from prospects who are fearful when technology is a part of a menu – without a menu, food sales can be affected. But one of the top benefits of the maturing digital signage market has been the increased reliability. You can now be much more confident that a digital menu in your restaurant will be lit and working during all business hours.

One key to assuring our customers of better uptime is redundancy. That is, we use multiple layered technologies so if one layer (the player, let’s say) fails, the screen can fall back on a USB drive. There are various other ways to do this, where a simple guide for the store manager can allow for redundant layers to be used where necessary. This ensures that all of the advantages of digital menus can be leveraged, while the downside of black screens is all but eliminated.

4. Store Owners Realize the Benefits

When it comes to technology, the market majority are late adopters. This has certainly been the case with digital menu boards, where even as the technology grows more affordable, ownership just feels more comfortable with old school methods. This can be changed by getting the word out, providing examples of where the technology can improve food sales or improve the customer experience.

Let’s rehash the benefits. For operations using a hub and spoke system where multiple stores use shared “commissaries” or “depots” for inventory, shortages of certain ingredients can update at the stores immediately. Where nutritional information needs to be listed, or where new menu items are regularly added, the design and alignment of content on the screens can be updated seamlessly. Where videos and animations can be eye-catching and street-facing, menu specials can be highlighted to accelerate sales.

And the bottom line is that, if a static (paper/magnetic/etc.) menu board costs $300.00 to purchase and $600 in labor to deliver, hang, and maintain, then the cost of static versus a digital menu board becomes roughly equivalent. Replacing this static board leads to costs over and above making it digital. One common complaint – energy consumption of televisions – is less of an issue, with modern televisions costing about $10.00 a month to keep on.

NOTE: In this shortlist, I’ve omitted situations where there isn’t enough physical space for screens, or screens simply don’t fit in the environment. Digital menus are a particular fit for QSR environments where customers walk up to the counter and order from a menu (typically behind the cashier).

Content Creation For Digital Signage

In the new age of digital signage, content can make or break the experience you create for your customers. Whether a company invests in cutting edge equipment or not, they may miss the mark…is their content taking full advantage of its capabilities, or did they simply throw their funds at an absurdly expensive digital screen? They would probably under-utilize it anyway… Perhaps the business could better serve and impress its clients with the assistance of a consultant with years of experience and knowledge in digital signage content creation.

Right Content At The Right Time

Once they’ve found the right combination of equipment and a plan to utilize content in an optimal fashion, an expert team will help determine whether this content should change according to a set schedule or not. This is known as Scheduled Digital Signage Content, and the link provided leads one to excellent examples of how a business can use it most effectively.

Digital Signage Training

In order to efficiently use its scheduled content, a company may enlist a portion of its employees to take Digital Signage Training. A wise consultant will help select the best training package and tailor it to a company’s needs. Within a short time, they can create new content for digital maps, video walls, visitor management systems, wayfinding solutions, and much more.

Custom Content Creation

However, the long term strategy of training employees to create and update content may not be optimal for each business. Instead, a consultant may recommend content packages that may offer five to ten customized updates per month. Ideally, one may opt to train employees while they utilize such a package. The company will no longer need to pay the higher cost of these monthly content updates once the trainees learn to take over.


Whether your company needs to select the best combination of digital signage equipment, train its employees to utilize the gear, or invest in a package with immediate custom content, Creating Margin will exceed your expectations.

Why wait? Schedule our Digital Signage Needs Assessment Services and discusses the digital signage possibilities for your business, employees, and clients.

How Digital Signage Content Is Broken – And How Affordable Managed Services Can Fix It

This article appears in the Sound and Video Contractors July 2015 Issue

Digital signage, increasingly prevalent across industries, is now used in a variety of applications, among others, to communicate with employees, market wares to shoppers, track warehouse safety metrics, guide visitors through hotels and public places, and post-meeting room reservations. Digital signage is everywhere and growing.

But the common problem with Conference Room Signs and Meeting Room Digital Signage that spans industries and uses are, for the most part, that content is broken.

When called in to optimize existing digital signage networks, we have found that eight out of ten digital signage installations have fallen short of their original vision for development. That may not mean that 80% of digital signage customers are unhappy, because for some end users, if “the screens are working,” they feel their system is working. But that doesn’t mean their digital signage installation is operating as planned or offering a return on investment.

While working with a leading digital signage software firm, we observed that great attention was paid to ensure that the software, hardware, and installation were executed to perfection, but curiously, there was no discussion about how to ensure that the installation would be running effective content for their  Conference Room Signs and Meeting Room Digital Signage.


Regardless of the reason, broken content is the eventual product of one-off gimmicky projects, overly complex software tools (often sold as “easy to use”), advertising agencies unfamiliar with the medium, or the next shiny thing in technology drawing away attention.

Gimmicky messages, images, or tech experiences are often “broken” after the first couple of uses. Take for example a software firm that has created a touch screen game where the user gets points for swiping at French Fries as they flowed across the 55-inch interactive screen. Most of us would try this game once- if it was free. But digital signage isn’t a free download from the Apple Store! Digital signage requires purchasing all the hardware, software, and funding content development. Because of its narrow scope, this particular fries game wasn’t a successful pilot, and there wasn’t much we could do for the developer.

Overly complex software products appear attractive until the realization that updates aren’t built-in and may not be possible if the in-house team lacks the necessary technical knowledge and creative ability to deliver regular content updates.

Digital and creative agencies may be a great resource for those who can afford them, but traditional ad agencies unfamiliar with producing content for digital signage tend to complicate the development process and can be costly, assuming they are not “learning” at your expense.

Unlike mobile app standards, the digital signage industry, in general, has not collected data to quantify the return on investment. In part, that is due to the fact that there are so many variables including venue, interior or exterior location, dwell time and audio applicability. That’s why the best practices for digital signage user interface (UI) design are often based on a composite of customer experiences.

And, designers who are new to the industry are at best-making assumptions about what looks good or functions well on a screen that is many times the size of a smartphone or tablet. All of which suggests the need for an affordable managed service that takes the burden of updating digital signage of the customer’s shoulders. End users who engage a Managed Services Provider (MSP) monthly instead of hiring an untrained full-time employee, have a flexible resource who is:

  • Expert in the software of choice,
  • Familiar with what works for digital signage in a particular setting, and
  • Able to apply lessons from other customers in real-time.

With an MSP, customers – from Mom & Pop shops to the major technology group downtown – can afford effective digital signage, which makes budget less of a barrier to entry. Important because digital signage can be a very valuable tool for businesses and an important part of an A/V integrator’s offering.

Creating Margin is a member of the Digital Signage Federation, the only independent, not-for-profit trade organization serving the digital signage industry. The DSF supports and promotes the common business interests of worldwide digital signage, interactive technologies, and digital out-of-home network industries. 

What is the difference between a Digital Signage assessment and an audit?

Creating Margin provides Digital Signage Needs Assessment and Audit Services. No, this isn’t a post about the IRS. The word “audit” may drive fear into our heart, the last thing anyone wants to see in their mailbox is the foreboding letter AUDIT!

Luckily, our audits are much more positive and helpful!

So What’s The Difference?

Digital Signage Needs Assessments and Audits are two vital parts of the services that Creating Margin provides to our customers. In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences between the two engagements. After reading this article you’ll be able to anticipate which one fits your company, and some of the ways that Creating Margin excels at each task.

Needs Assessment

Needs Assessments are typically a presales task. Most times, we are just getting to know a customer and are learning more about their environment. We also evaluate their anticipated use of a particular technology and any acute pain points that we may be able to solve with the customization of that technology. During a Needs Assessment, Creating Margin excels at providing input from an unbiased perspective. Our approach helps end-users feel more comfortable moving forward with a particular technology during the consultation.

For certain projects, a Needs Assessment may call for a Statement of Work (SOW) to be drafted. This clearly aligns the vision for the project and the specific services to be provided. Included in the SOW may be an estimated cost for services. Read more about our approach to implementing software and creating content.


Digital Signage Audits are conducted after implementing the software solution, and often times after it has been installed for several years. We find that after years of running digital signage networks, companies can benefit from an audit of how the solution is working.

Creating Margin takes a thorough approach to these audits, with a 30-Point checklist ensuring that all aspects of the wiring, hardware, software, network, and content are all working and professional in appearance. Creating Margin is also different in that we can provide services after completion of the audit to rectify any issues that have been noted during the process.

We have discussed where Needs Assessments and Audits are useful to Digital Signage end users. Creating Margin provides unique value for both types of engagements due to our focus on content and our technical knowledge and experience in the industry. Do you see a fit for these services for your organization? Contact us now!

How can Creating Margin help you with your Content Creation?

Content creation is a critical component of the implementation and maintenance of any digital signage network. As that first sentence suggests, it’s not a one-time requirement at kick-off, but an ongoing responsibility in order to ensure that a company’s investment in digital signage pays off.

At Creating Margin we regularly work with companies on all points of the spectrum – networks that are floundering and need a ground-up content creation project, all the way to networks that are in good shape, in need of some tweaking of the content update process. Many healthy digital signage networks can still benefit from a Digital Signage Audit, which Creating Margin can perform in addition (and often prior) to our content creation services. Learn more about our Digital Signage Audit services here.

Let’s consider our approach to content creation for a network that needs a restart. Creating Margin always begins with a needs assessment to be as specific as possible about where a network is succeeding and where it’s failing. While each project is different, a Needs Assessment is normally accomplished through a series of conversations to define a strategic vision for the digital signage investment.

The next step is to plan phased updates according to reasonable delivery times and budgetary constraints. For example, does the client require 6 or 10 content updates each month, and can they afford them? In our experience, digital signage projects are iterative and take time, and customers prefer payments based on delivery, so planning phases of the project are natural.

Now resources can be assigned and the work of creating content commences. During the creative kickoff call, we discover the customer’s brand identity and their creative vision; if these factors are still foggy, we make sure to document this clearly and lend our experience to sharpen the vision. From here we create User Interface (UI) wireframes to plan the method of interactivity, the layers of interactivity, and to facilitate a discussion of the User Experience (UX). Digital signage is influenced by web and mobile UI/UX design, and the CM team often draws from our experience in those projects.

As the engagement evolves from wireframes to creative design, to mockups and then development, we engage the customer team early and often. We have seen that delays can occur when decision-makers are late in getting involved, because new input may alter the creative direction. As a result, we encourage all decision-makers to be involved as early as possible in the engagement.

Hand Drawn Wireframe

The development of the working applications can begin once sign off on the design is received. Having agreed on the placement of buttons, the look, and feel of the template, we can break down the pieces and build in transitions, triggers, timings, and more. This is where our experience shines again, as we specialize in digital signage.

For example, have you considered that the majority of users of digital signage are right-handed? Statistics show that 90 percent of the greater population is right-handed, so we factor that into our work with digital signage. Not a problem that you’d normally think about with mobile or web applications, but on large format screens for digital signage, where you place interactive buttons and triggered content can have a huge impact on usability.

Or have you considered ADA accessibility of your digital signage for those in wheelchairs, or with color blindness? We understand these concerns and always factor them into our design concepts and working applications. You’d be surprised how many end-users we speak with who have visual content and even hardware not created to accessibility standards. Failing to meet accessibility standards can expose companies to legal liability and we encourage all of our customers to take these standards seriously.

After completing the working build of an application, we give end users an opportunity to observe, interact with, and otherwise test (QA) the solution. We ask for the end user team to write a list of changes they’d like to see, along with any bugs they have found (unlikely, as we have QA’d the solution ourselves before passing it along). This process may repeat one more time before we implement the software and content solution along with any hardware that may be involved. As discussed, we partner with A/V Integrator partners nationwide. While this may be our first time to mention them in this article, we involve our integrator partners as often as possible during projects to prepare them for what to expect on-site and to be very familiar with the hardware solution that we’ll jointly put into place.

Project completion allows Creating Margin to transition our involvement to ongoing Managed Services, where we provide a bucket of hours on a monthly basis to help in a variety of ways. Continued training at the customer’s pace, help riding out staff turnover, tier 1 and 2 support, and support for content updates are a few of the benefits included in Creating Margin’s Managed Services. Read and learn more about our Managed Services.

In this extensive article, we have walked you through the steps that we take to ensure a satisfactory experience for each and every one of our customers. “It sounds pretty standard” you might say. What really differentiates our services? It is our depth of experience in this industry, our focus on digital signage, and our ability to communicate throughout the process in order to mitigate problems that can all too easily arise in these types of projects.