5 min read

Guide to Making Digital Drive-Thru Menu Boards

Written by
Pavlo Fedykovych
Published on
September 26, 2022
May 29, 2024

This article is entirely devoted to digital drive-thru menu boards. We will go through the history of this restaurant phenomenon, see where we stand at the moment, talk about the best applications of new technology, and, most importantly, will guide you through a process of making your own drive-thru digital signage that rocks.

The beginnings of the drive-thru

Believe it or not, the drive-thru concept has had a significant role in the history of the development of the US economy. It was at the core of current fast food, by its history you can learn the history of the American restaurant industry itself. 

But way before the drive-thru digital menu boards, even before the static signage and the whole system of order while sitting in a car, there was a drive-in. It’s generally regarded that Pig Stand, a simple roadside eatery where the drivers could enjoy their meals, was the first drive-in in the United Stands. The location was Dallas-Fort Worth Highway and you had a menu outside informing customers about the proposition. Quite an innovative concept considering that we are talking about the year 1921. 

As the cars were getting more popular, roads more vibrant, and consumption more active, the US has seen an explosion of automobile-catering restaurants. All of them worked under the drive-in scheme. The drivers would park their cars, order, and have their meal without leaving the territory whether it was in a car or outside. Carpenter's Sandwiches which operated in the 30s is one such example. Already popular Californian chain A&W hopped on the drive-in concept in the 20s. 

In the years preceding WW2 the drive-thru had its formation. Shopping on the wheels became a new trend, there were liquor and grocery stores that catered specifically to the drivers. However, there wasn’t one big drive-thru kind of restaurant chain, the one that would change the rules of the game.

Red's Giant Hamburg opened in 1947 and is regarded as the first drive-thru restaurant in America. It had something different prepared for the clients. The revolution came from a drive-up window, a simple but powerful addition to the dine-in experience. But it was another place that took the concept to the stars. 

The well-known and universally loved In-and-Out Burger opened a drive-thru in 1948 inspired by the Red's Giant Hamburg approach. This event is considered to be the starting point of a drive-thru wave that engulfed the eateries across the American highways and led to the world's domination of the concept. 

The customers would drive to the specially designated area greeted by a simple menu. They would order through the speaker system and then get their order. Here it was, an engaging, intuitive way of getting your food while you’re in the car. And the idea found fertile ground among American restaurants and took over the world by storm. 

Surprisingly, the present-day fast food leaders such as McDonald’s and Burger King haven’t been utilizing drive-thrus until the 70s. The market was mostly dominated by In-and-Out Burger and Wendy’s.

The transition from static to digital drive-thru menu boards

Of course, the concept of drive-thru wasn’t existing outside of the general development of technology. Even the fact that it arose in the first place was due to an innovative approach to order, quite an invention in itself. In-and-out Burger has introduced a two-way speaker system which more or less survived to this day. 

The thing that changed a lot is the menu. The 90s were a turning point for the history of the menu boards. As the restaurants started to add more items to the menu and the innovative solutions began to take off across all the industries, the roadside fast food chains quickly adapted their marketing plans.

That’s how the classic static menu became drive-thru digital signage. There was no surprise in it, the screens were a more flexible, more visual, more powerful way to engage with customers. And the question never was “why”, the question was “when”. When are you going to install the digital drive-thru menu board? 

It’s hard to imagine a modern restaurant with a drive-thru that doesn’t use screen technology in one way or another. Continuing with static is the obsolete and old-school way of doing things that doesn’t give you all the versatility of the digital drive-thru menu boards. 

If you’re still not using digital signage, you simply mission out on a myriad of perks that the display technology possesses. 

Why digital drive-thru menu boards are cool?

Congrats, you’ve made the right decision to employ the drive-thru digital signage. With the screens you’re getting: 

- total control over the content you’re going to show

- increase in sales 

- better customer engagement 

- more possibilities of upselling 

- a perfect medium for promoting special menu items

But having the technology installed is one thing. Making it work is another. It’s important to keep in mind that digital drive-thru menu boards are the extension of your marketing. So treat them as you would treat any other marketing channel. The content should resonate with your audience, it should evoke the desire to buy, and it shouldn’t be too much. 

If you follow these simple rules, it’s half of the success of your digital menu board. Another part is the design per se, the images, and videos that you’re actually putting in front of your customers as they drive to your spot. 

How to design a great digital menu?

The drive-thru is a very vibrant space. When a person is inside a restaurant, there’s time to choose. When it comes to the drive-thru, the timing is limited. Make this work for your business. Be sure to design the menu board taking into account this time limitation. 

It should be clear, it should shoot with special promotions, and it should actively work with the customer. And God forbid it to be dull and uninteresting. The first impression is everything and with the drive-thru, the first impression is the only impression you’ve got. 

Marketing-wise, being pressured by the cars behind is not that bad of a thing. However, your customer should know that he is treated with respect and there’s no rush (at least not the rush that is vividly felt). Address this with your digital menu board. 

At the end of the day, the client’s opinion is all that matters. Digital drive-thru menu boards are one of your communication channels with the customer. So use it to the full force and make the most of technology. 

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