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Using digital menu boards, Pizza Hut Express lets the food sell itself

Pizza Hut, the world's largest pizza restaurant, is banking on the fact that people eat with their eyes. People want to eat something that looks delicious, and pizza tastes as delicious as it looks.

Using this visual appeal to its full advantage, Pizza Hut Express locations, which are the non-freestanding Pizza Hut restaurants—found on university campuses, airports, retailers and highway rest areas—are starting to embrace digital menu boards.

These Express locations are owned by franchisees and have a different and smaller menu than traditional Pizza Hut restaurants. In a partnership with Deel Media, a company that specializes in digital merchandising products and solutions for foodservice-centric venues, Pizza Hut is offering a digital menu board option for its franchisees.

Each franchisee is presented with the costs for static menu boards versus digital menu boards, the cost savings with static and the benefits of digital. These days, franchisees understand the value of digital signage, and it is fast becoming their preferred option.

So far, approximately 60 out of 2,500 Pizza Hut Express locations use digital menu boards. As the menu boards prove their profitability, Pizza Hut Express management expects more franchisees will invest in this option.

A typical digital menu board installation includes up to five 42-inch LG monitors that are linked to a computer that remotely connects to a Deel Media server. Deel Media manages the content. It can push and edit the content to any Express location through a secured network.

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Showing Off the Goods
When it comes to driving customer sales, a static menu board just can’t compare with a digital board, especially for an item like pizza, which shows extremely well.

“A hamburger or a wrapped burrito just doesn’t show as well as a freshly baked pizza on video,” said Doug Terfehr, director of public relations for Pizza Hut at Yum! Brands.

Imagine a freshly baked pepperoni pizza; the bold red pepperoni on top of a layer of warm, melted mozzarella cheese, and don’t forget that chewy golden crust. Picture the steam rising off the pizza. As a slice is being pulled from the pie, long strings of cheese trail behind. Then, there’s warm, soft breadsticks being dipped in hearty marinara sauce.

Pizza Hut Express is hoping such videos, displayed on their digital menu boards, will lead to increased revenue.

“Those are the things that make your mouth water,” said Molly Light, director of finance for YUM! Express Brands. “We’re tying to bring the product as to close to point of purchase as possible, as well as showcasing the most profitable items.”

An Art Form
Determining the perfect amount of movement and how the menu boards work in tandem—drawing a customer’s eyes to different boards at different times—is an art form.

“Deel Media helped us find that sweet spot,” said Shannon St. Clair, senior manager of architecture and engineering for the Express Team at Yum! Brands. “You don’t just want to throw something on there and let it run. There is a science mindset that you have to understand to utilize the boards most effectively. You really need to think about it in a framework. For one board, there can be multiple different frameworks that are possible. That’s where the design mindset comes into play.”

According to St. Clair, the ultimate goal is for the digital menu boards to allow the food to be the hero, so the food sells itself.

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Vast Competition
Pizza Hut Express locations have a unique competition market.

Consider the various types of offerings in a typical mall, airport or college campus food court. There’s Chinese food, hamburgers, pretzels and hot dogs, to name a few.

In addition to other pizza restaurants, Pizza Hut Express locations must compete with all those companies.

“And everyone has digital in those venues, but [the competition] is simply displaying their menu on monitors,” Light said. “What we’re doing is adding animation, such as footage from commercials or hero shots of the food to engage the customer. Using digital signage in a unique way is what sets you ahead of everyone else.”

With this in mind, the company’s strategy is to let the products speak for themselves. The products are showcased with minimal text.

As a hungry customer surveys his or her food options, Pizza Hut Express is hoping to catch the customer’s eyes with gorgeous videos of its offerings.

Live Monitoring
At Yum! Brand’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, a central management station allows staff to view any Express location’s live menu boards. Mostly used for quality control and training, seeing the actual live menu board is incredibly valuable.

“We can see what’s on the menu boards in Okinawa, Japan, right now,” Light said. “[For new installations] we can make sure the menu board is restaurant-ready before they go live, and viewing live images is very different than looking at screenshots of animations.”

Deel Media’s headquarters in Atlanta has the same capability. Staff can ensure live menu boards are accurate as well as make any changes such as pricing and adding or removing new deals and promotions.

Learn More about the Pizza Hut Express Team

A True Partnership
Last year, Pizza Hut awarded Deel Media its Partner of the Year award.

“[Deel Media] is central to our success,” Light said. “With their innovation, customer service as well as their technological advantage, we really can’t imagine expanding with anyone else.”

When Pizza Hut Express turned to Deel Media for a complete, turnkey digital signage solution, Deel exceeded Pizza Hut Express’ expectations.

In addition to helping Pizza Hut Express completely redesign its digital menu boards, Deel Media helped standardize and streamline processes for different menu-item types and deliver creative elements.

For visually stunning digital menu boards, Deel Media worked with the Pizza Hut Marketing team to produce the still and animated images needed.

With the assets acquired, the digital menu board designs finalized and processes in place, Deel Media was ready to distribute the content to the franchisees. The content is currently managed and edited by Deel Media using software called Carbon. The software processes any menu changes, such as adding and removing items and price changes.

There are a lot of digital signage companies out there, but it is Deel Media’s focus that sets them apart.

“If you ask [other digital signage companies], ‘Can you design a digital menu board?’ they will say ‘yes,’” Clapes said. “And they certainly can. But we focus on food; we know food. We know what works and what doesn’t. We know how to motivate consumers to buy something based on appetite. We also designed our software specifically to manage large networks of multiscreen menu boards. We’re not going to create an advertising network; we’re not going to create an airline flight time menu screen. People ask us to but we point them in the direction of the companies that do those things because we don’t want to lose focus.”

‘A Little Slice of Home’
Pizza Hut Express is now adding military bases to the types of environments they serve. DEEL Media and Schult Industries, a provider of decor signage, menu systems and displays, are installing Pizza Hut digital menu boards at U.S. military bases around the world. The digital full-motion menu boards consist of six vertically mounted LCD displays.

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), which works to deliver quality goods and services at competitively low prices with superior service to the military community, believes in the power of digital signage to drive sales and gain consistency of message and branding.

“We’re excited to be a part of this project with Schult Industries, LLC, and are proud that our technology is being used to provide ‘a little slice of home’ to our military,” Clapes said in a press release.

A Digital Future
Pizza Hut Express has been interested in digital signage for a long time, but price was an obstacle.

“Five years ago, the technology was much more expensive,” Light said. “So, it was a challenge, but even back then, we had the vision to look at this and say, ‘I can see where this is going and the power of it.’ We have to prove the profitability of it, but I don’t see how you can look at it and not think there is a huge amount of sales and power for branding.

Having the buy-in of these 60 franchisees is a great step forward, and the folks at Pizza Hut Express are excited about its digital signage progress.

“I was the biggest champion of digital menu boards,” said Cheryl. “We had some digital imaging out there, but our digital signage vision has been translated into something we’re very excited and proud of.”

And with Deel Media by their side, Pizza Hut Express can look forward to a future that includes a proliferation of digital signage.

“Now that we’ve found our vision and wiling partner to jump in whole-heartedly with us, we’re expecting this very nimble experience to continue,” Light said.

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