Americans have been TV junkies since the boob tube was invented. So, when Terry Black, owner of Jimmy & Joe’s Pizzeria (jimmyandjoes.com)—with locations in Chandler and Mesa, Arizona—wanted to give his guests a little visual stimulation while they waited for their orders, he knew exactly what to do. He installed a digital signage program that allows him to put anything he wants on TV screens—news and weather updates, videos of his pizza maker building pies with fresh ingredients, or advertisements of his restaurants’ specials and promotions. “We also promote fundraisers or ‘double punch card’ days for our loyalty program,” Black says. “We feature customers or employees of the month, with their bios, and even charge noncompeting local companies to advertise. It can pay for itself or even turn into a revenue stream.”
   Black’s initial investment for the TVs and wiring was “a couple thousand,” he estimates; in addition to a small up-front fee, he pays an ongoing monthly charge for the service. The screens are placed above the restroom (next to the ordering counter) and in the dining area, and they can be switched to regular TV channels when customers want to catch the big game. Every week, the videos get tweaked to keep information fresh and give returning customers new eye candy, and Black obtains inspiration by visiting other local companies that have the system. Next, he wants to upgrade to digital menus as well. “We’re in a digital world—I see these systems in banks and grocery stores, and if the big guys are doing it, we should, too,” he notes. “We’re a visual society, and this is an eye-catching way to promote and educate customers about your business.”

When chef/owner Luciano Del Signore wanted to boost the visibility of his Pizzeria Biga (pizzeriabiga.com) location in Royal Oak, Michigan, he didn’t pour money into expensive signage of any kind. He simply wrapped the entire building in red, white and green lights. “We wanted to bring awareness and attention to the building,” he recalls. “Over three days, we put up the lights—I don’t know how many, but I’d guess hundreds of thousands.”

The tactic worked wonders—business went up 20% to 30% that day, as new customers immediately flooded the pizzeria. Now Del Signore may try the same approach with his second location in Southfield, Michigan. “The pizza business is casual enough so that you can become the neighborhood restaurant, but you have to remind people that you’re there,” he says.

Not many pizzeria operators would choose to make their restaurants look like a gigantic Christmas tree 365 days a year, but most agree that attention-grabbing signage is crucial to a pizzeria’s success. Done well, it can solidify your brand, draw a slew of new customers, enhance the guest experience, and promote your business both inside and outside your four walls. As the world becomes increasingly connected (leading to ever shorter attention spans), many believe that digital signage—programmable, flexible and easy to use—will play a pivotal role in the future of the restaurant business. Meanwhile, of course, some pizzerias have found inventive ways to stand out without going high-tech. We check in with those on the forefront of digital technologies—as well as two operators who have each taken their own unique approaches to interior and exterior signage (see sidebars)—to show you how the right signage can lead to dollar signs.

Seeing the Light

Janna Rider, director of digital merchandising for American Dairy Queen in Minneapolis, lists several benefits of digital signage: flexibility limited only by your imagination, the ability to feature more items than usual, and the opportunity to promote add-ons (instead of relying on employees). “You can make frequent changes on menu items and pricing—or add or change nutritional information, where required—and manage everything easily,” Rider says. “In the pizza world, you could let customers know when their takeout orders are ready; feature products and enhance brand messages as they wait; or even show pizzas being made.

The flexibility of digital signage, especially for smaller restaurants, also allows operators to incorporate cross-
promotions, advertise limited-time-only offers and specials on the fly, and tie the community into the restaurant, notes Richard Ventura, the St. Paul, Minnesota-based director of sales for vertical solutions at NEC Display Solutions. “Pizzerias that do a lot of charity work—for example, sponsoring a local athletic department—can share videos, pictures and information from events very quickly,” says Ventura, who also serves as co-chair of the Digital Signage Federation Advocacy and Outreach Committee. “Within the restaurant, digital signs can also promote what you offer—catering services, a room for kids parties, gift cards, etc.—without having to worry about print, which gets old and stale quickly, creates clutter and often isn’t seen by people in line.”

Nathalie Azoulay, president of Montreal-based Eye-In Media, notes that digital signage can also test the elasticity of pricing. Depending on the time, day, season or location, what can the market handle? For example, a 24-hour or late-night pizzeria in a college town might be able to raise prices in the wee hours, while pizzerias with multiple locations can test different pricing structures in different areas. Your signage strategy can even change with the weather. “If it’s raining, you can push your comfort foods instead of frozen treats,” Azoulay suggests. “Real-time adjustment is a major benefit of digital signage.”

Since those who are viewing your digital signage are already in your pizzeria, Ventura advises using digital signage to promote difficult-to-sell yet profitable items (such as desserts, beverages and salads), increase tickets and provide community information—all of which lead to repeat buyers. “Using a digital display as an exact copy of your static board has no benefit, so make the content dynamic,” he advises. “Dynamic content that shows motion—such as pizzas being made—
attracts people and increases sales.” In other words, don’t use your signage solely to push your own agenda; use it to entertain, inform and interact with your customers.

Three Degrees 
of Digital Signage

Azoulay refers to three degrees of digital signage. The technology works as a trendy new communication tool that captures attention through movement; as a way to replace poster/print materials in an eco-friendly way; and as a strategy and an art that creates entirely new marketing strategies. Operators should focus on the third degree. “Start by identifying your marketing or sales objective, because you can’t do it all,” Azoulay says. “Each six months to one year, what do you want to work on? You may want to increase customer satisfaction, gain loyalty or convert customers from core products to new or trendier items. Identify your key operating factors, then measure them.”


As a fourth-generation restaurateur, Barry Brown, owner of Mama Mia Trattoria
(mamamiatrattoria.com) in Portland, Oregon, has opened 45 restaurants over the years. For his latest endeavor—a classic, East Coast-style, upscale-casual Italian restaurant—he chose to keep the signage simple. First, two A-frames outside the building help attract business from passersby. “We use quite a bit of exterior signage. For the A-frames, one message (about 14 letters long) acts like a billboard for those driving by, and on the sidewalk side (for those walking by or exiting the restaurant) we elaborate on that message with smaller print,” Brown says. “Each sign has two sides. We might advertise happy hour on the outside-facing side, then have the menu on the other; or write ‘open for lunch’ on one side and give more details on the other side.” Meanwhile, inside the business, a 3’-by-3’ sign near the restrooms gets “a ton of visibility” and might advertise holiday gift cards or special promotions, he says.
   Other exterior signage includes Mama Mia Trattoria signs and neon signs that help the corner location gain visibility and let people know when the restaurant is open. The lit signs and the A-frames are a 24/7 presence, which “absolutely helps bring visibility to the business,” Brown says—even when it’s not open. “It’s okay to have two different types of signs, as long as you convey the same brand message—and have them lit up and displayed all day, every day,” he adds. “It’s all about customer views and sending a message about the business.”

When shopping around for digital providers, think about how involved you want to be and how much customization you require, Rider recommends. Look beyond software and hardware, Azoulay suggests, and find a company that will be a partner, handling marketing, technology and developing content. Upon installation, you’ll also want to find the right positioning, message and font/colors to reinforce your brand, she adds.
“Feeding the beast”—that is, making sure content doesn’t go stale—is another challenge with digital signage, according to Ventura, so you’ll need to appoint someone to manage your signage.

As for deciding where in the business to place your signage, Ventura poses four questions: What’s your message? Where do you have the most traffic? How high are you going to make the menu board (too high and the customer won’t see it; too low and he’ll walk into or by it)? And how many screens are you going to use? “A small area can have one screen, while a menu board behind the counter might have two to four screens, depending on content,” Ventura says.

In general, Ventura says, restaurateurs should be aware of these trends across the board in retailing: integrating social media into signage (“Like us on Facebook and get a free soda this visit”); mobility and gathering data (“Text us for a coupon”); and multichannel strategies (ensuring your customer’s interaction with the restaurant remains consistent and productive through all of your marketing channels—including website, Twitter, Facebook, print ads and in-house signage—thus building brand relations and equity).

More Than Merely Signage

Indeed, digital signage is becoming much more than merely signage. “The future is digital signage integrated with mobile, such as customers who connect to a store’s Wi-Fi and see the business’ digital sign on their mobile device’s screen,” Azoulay says. “You can then know how often the customer uses the network, as well as give coupons and collect customer information.” She adds that video walls—used to dress up a store, push content, educate and set the mood in the dining room—are also becoming popular.

Ultimately, says Rider, digital is where the industry is headed. “This is how we’re used to being communicated with—phones, TVs and computers. We expect it now,” she concludes. “The big players are stepping up, and, whether you like it or not, if you want to stay relevant, you should be prepared.”

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.


Keep your eye on these up-and-coming trends in digital signage, as described by Janna Rider, director of digital merchandising for American Dairy Queen in Minneapolis:
    • Interactive multiscreen installations/video walls. Pizzerias could let customers build    their own pizzas in interactive digital kiosks, using gestures as with an Xbox. The customer could then post it on Facebook so someone else could order the same pizza.
     • Digital signage on cooler doors. This type of signage would be used to push beverage sales and guide customers through the process of selecting beverages. A rear projector, like an LCD projector, could project pictures even onto clear glass. This technology can be used to create interactive “hosts” in a restaurant.
    • The Bluetooth connection. Customers will be able to use the Bluetooth on a cell phone to connect to digital signage in the restaurant. This can create a recognition factor so that, when a customer walks into your store, you can send a message that says, “Welcome back! Would you like the same order as last time?”