Digital Menu Board Hardware 101
By Bryce Patterson
There’s a ton to consider when setting up a digital menu board for the first time. You have to dig into everything from menu software to hardware to the TV display, and it’s easy to get lost at sea as you ponder the enormous range of options. Not to worry–we’re here to help you find the right digital menu board hardware for your needs. We’ll explore some of the available options and how you can best set up your business for success.
How Digital Menu Boards Work
Digital menu boards are typically powered by a device that plugs into a television. These devices are usually quite small, ranging from a tiny USB drive up to a Raspberry Pi, which is a miniature computer system about the size of a deck of cards. Different devices may also have specific requirements in terms of operating systems- think Apple, Windows, etc.
Time for the nuts and bolts. There are a couple of ways that most businesses set up digital menu boards.
DIY Digital Menu Boards
The simplest DIY approach here is just a USB flash drive and PowerPoint (or your preferred presentation app). While it’s a seemingly easy option, remember that it requires a lot of time and your functionality will be incredibly limited. Any updates to your menu or content will need to be made manually, and your menu will need to be taken off of the screen throughout the process. Not ideal when you’re in the middle of a busy shift.
More likely, you’ll want to use digital menu software like Evergreen that comes with added functionality and support to streamline your other processes. Any software you choose has its own specific set of hardware requirements and set up options, so let’s get into a quick overview of what’s out there.
Different Software, Different Hardware Requirements
Pick Your Own
Some digital menu software is compatible with any device (e.g. Google Chromecast or an Intel Compute Stick). Chances are, though, you will be responsible for troubleshooting any issues you run into. You also need to choose and purchase the hardware yourself and make sure the different elements are compatible with your unique menu needs. If you’re not especially comfortable working with technology or don’t have a designated IT or AV person, this option can cause some added difficulties.
Option two (which includes Evergreen) is providers that have a preferred device to go with their software. One big advantage here is support. You can usually get consistent troubleshooting support for things like connectivity issues, because these companies are experienced in using the devices they recommend. Having a preferred device also means that you don’t need to research options yourself.
A note of caution here: some software providers lock you into using a particular computer/software to run your menu. This is because some devices are only compatible with Windows, which might mean that you need to purchase a dedicated PC to run your menu board.
Ideally, you’ll find software like Evergreen that uses a preferred device compatible with any system, from Macs to PCs and desktops to iPads. Evergreen’s preferred device is a Raspberry Pi, which is a mini-computer that runs our custom software and can plug into any TV via HDMI. This means you can use just about any TV on the market, and all of our awesome features like signage staying up even when WiFi is down, will still work.
One last note here. Some bars and restaurants will pay a hardware installation company to set up the TVs and devices. If your business can afford to go this route, it can smooth the process along, but generally independent and franchise locations choose to save the money and take care of installation themselves. Since you’ll likely need to do any upkeep or troubleshooting of the devices you choose, it’s worth figuring out a setup that you understand and are able to maintain long-term. And remember, some software providers (Evergreen included) have customer support staff who will walk you through the set-up process.
The hardware you choose is important, but remember that software is where you get the chance to be creative and bring the unique identity of your bar or restaurant to the forefront. It’s also the piece that will save you valuable hours each week. Need to update your menu on the fly? Evergreen makes it simple to make changes using whatever tech you prefer, whether that’s mobile, desktop or tablet devices. Get a free demo today!