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Marketing Moves

For many franchise brands, the writing on the wall is digital


Costa Vida

Costa Vida stores feature a striking water wall with digital menu boards.

Digital signage is a hot trend in restaurants, offering more control to tout daily specials, a better return on investment, and in some cases even a chance to go online while in line. Pudgie’s is set to test that last idea.

Customers at a Pudgie’s Naked Chicken restaurant can tweet as much as they want while dining or waiting to eat starting in June, courtesy of a 47-inch flat-screen guest engagement board planned for the prototype store.

Those amenities also will be offered to patrons at a Ritter’s Frozen Custard prototype store this fall. Trufoods, the franchisor of both concepts, plans to test the screens at  Pudgie’s in Massapequa, New York, and Ritter’s in South Florida.

Gary Occhiogrosso, Trufoods’ president and chief development officer, says three additional 47-inch flat-screen digital menu boards will be installed at the restaurants to show customers menus, new products and upcoming events. 

Trufoods is investing $13,000 into the digital systems and will test them for six months before launching them systemwide into new stores. New York City-based Trufoods has 45 franchise locations nationally under the brands of Wall Street Deli, Pudgie’s, Ritter’s and Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips.

If the corporate prototypes are successful, he says, existing Pudgie’s, Ritter’s and Wall Street Deli franchisees will have the option to retrofit their locations with the new menu boards. Trufoods will have three company owned stores after the prototype stores open.

Many restaurant operators are turning to digital signage to revamp in-store marketing efforts. It’s a hot trend because digital signage gives restaurateurs control over their message, yields a strong return on investment and improves customer experience when compared against costs and timing with static signage, says Paul Flanigan, executive director of Digital Screenmedia Association, a Louisville-based digital signage trade group

Improved price flexibility, the ability to display emergency messages, and the ease in changing breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are other drivers. The signs can be managed locally or from a central office, allowing menu changes to be made for multiple sites instantly from one place.

Digital signage and promotion boards in restaurant dining rooms will continue to grow because they allow restaurants to enhance the relationship with consumers, promote sales and keep up with competitors, says Rob Silvershein,  president of EarlyPhase Media, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm that provides early stage digital signage and place-based media services.

Further, labeling laws are prompting restaurants of all sizes to consider digital signage. In 2010, President Obama signed into law the healthcare reform bill that requires chain restaurants—those with 20 locations or more—to post the calorie content of their food on menus or menu boards. The eateries are required to post information on how a certain menu item’s calorie content stacks up against daily calorie requirements.

Other nutritional information,  like  fat content and carbohydrate content, must be available upon request. Items that aren’t listed on the menus, such as temporary specials or custom orders, would be exempt from the rules.

Your Pie enhancements

Athens, Georgia-based Your Pie, a pizza chain with 22 locations, plans to remodel 16 existing stores to implement a new chopped salad station and open six stores with new equipment to offer the food.


Franchise customers of Optiva’s SpellBrite signs, shown above, report sales increases of 10 to 30 percent.

Founder Drew French says it will cost about $10,000 per unit to upgrade the existing stores and roughly $3,000 for each new store to add the station that will be launched on June 1. French is betting those enhancements—with signage on a big menu board listing  items 600 calories or less and a nutritional calculator added on individual menus and its web site—will bring a competitive edge over rivals. Your Pie has digital promotional boards showcasing menu specials, limited-time offers and upcoming events.      

“Our salad program will make our offerings more dynamic, customer centric and be a nutritious choice in addition to our healthy pizza and paninis,” he says.

Lehi, Utah-based Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill, with 60 locations as of early March, uses digital signage to tell the brand’s story, describe its food offerings and entertain customers.

The chain has promotional menu boards patrons can view standing in line and digital monitors in the dining area. The signage can perform many tasks, including to display new menu items, spark sales of slower-selling items and showcase healthier food options. It can also help reduce perceived wait times as folks standing by to dine are preoccupied viewing items they may want to order.

Ashley Moody, Costa Vida’s director of marketing, estimates about 65 percent of the brand’s franchise operators have digital menu and promotional boards and are working toward having the rest by year’s end. Just over 18 percent of the chain’s locations are company owned. She says it costs $10,000 to $12,000 per location to install the digital units and another $50 to $150 monthly for promotional-related costs, depending on how much movement or other elements are added to the display.

Moody figures the majority of Costa Vida’s franchisees are on board with the digital board route because it’s fresh, cutting edge and people are visual. “We have video elements that can show our current TV commercials, so that’s a nice medium for us to show that in our stores.”

Sign providers are benefiting from the electronic displays they offer restaurateurs.

Sean Callahan, president and CEO at Optiva Signs, says franchise customers are reporting sales increases of 10 to 30 percent after installing the SpellBrite signs his Chicago-based company sold to them. He says the ultra-bright, “click-together” signs are popular with clients because they are effective at capturing the attention of prospective customers. Franchisors are using the signage to help determine customer demand for new products and promotions. They use signage like “$5 pizza combo” and “made fresh to order” to sell items on the spot. Some restaurants use “immediate seating” signs to attract customers who are not inclined to wait for a table. 

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