Poorly Designed Menu Boards Impact Speed of Service

I was recently interviewed by Christa Hoyland, editor of QSRWeb, for an article she was writing. In it, she notes that 50% of consumers polled by QSRWeb say that menu boards have become harder to read and that speed of service is taking a hit as a result.

One reason for the problem, she notes, is the ballooning number of menu offerings—and the failure to organize and present menu boards in ways that make it easy to zero in on a desirable choice. As I’ve conducted customer interaction studies with QSRs in various markets, cultures, and countries, I’ve seen that the complexity of the menu board is a common problem. At Scoresby Interactive, our focus is the customer experience, so it's a big red flag when we see customers confused, uncomfortable, and feeling stupid holding up the line when they're trying to make sense of the menu board.

As I note in a LinkedIn posting, the complicated menu board phenomenon illustrates an interesting conundrum: On one hand, QSRs want to offer a rich variety of choices, but on the other hand, they also want to be true to the "quick" part of the moniker. Unfortunately, when done poorly, the menu board serves to facilitate one goal while hindering the other.

As an aside, it's interesting to note that at most QSRs, we see employees focusing on the "quick" goal rather than the "communicate-the-wide-variety-of-options" goal. In fact, a lot of employees unconsciously hide customer options. For instance, if the customer orders a sandwich, cashiers will often prompt the customer by defining what constitutes a "meal" or a "combo" (e.g., "Wanna make it a meal with a drink and chips?"). Turning what is really an open-ended question into a yes/no question serves to keep the line moving, but it also implies to the customer that they have only one choice for the side.

There are a whole host of these examples...solved, in part, through better menu boards.

Companies can begin to identify and solve menu board issues simply by listening to the kinds of questions customers ask. If customers are asking for prices, the menu board’s ability to communicate pricing probably needs some improvement. If they are asking about their choices for side dishes, the company would probably want to look at better communicating sides.

Once companies begin to identify the issues, they'll discover that the solution will usually require a series of trade-offs—and sometimes it's difficult to know what factors should take precedence over others. But as I mention in the QSRWeb article, any solution will be most effective if it matches, as much as possible, the way customers think about and organize menu choices in their minds...unless, of course, we discover that they are thinking about menu options incorrectly in part because of a poorly designed menu board! See what I mean? Knowing what factors should play the biggest role in adjusting the menu board can sometimes be a tricky business.

Here’s another important thing to consider: As I've been out doing research at various QSRs, I've seen several instances where the menu board (and other customer-facing signage) did not match the POS and other employee-facing media. This invariably creates issues when the customer places an order using a term they see on the menu board and the employee has to translate the request into terms the company uses internally.

In addition to wording differences, we also see differences in the way the menu options are organized and presented between the menu board and the Point of Sale. This nearly always creates a mismatch between the way the customer orders and the way the employee must enter the order into the computer. And, in the end, speed and order accuracy always suffer.

The solution to these problems will naturally vary depending on the company culture, its marketing strategy, the menu offerings, etc. But making it easy for the customer to quickly and successfully order exactly what they want—and allowing the employee to enter that order as the customer speaks it—should be a goal for every QSR.