FDA Menu-labeling Regulations (finally) Take Effect

by Jeff Hastings, CEO of BrightSign, LLC

This May the FDA’s long-awaited menu-labeling regulations went into effect, following a one-year reprieve intended to give restauranteurs more time to become compliant. This legislation is far-reaching, requiring restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display nutritional information on their menus to help customers make healthful, informed choices. And while these new rules squarely affect fast casual chains, the regulations are far-reaching in that they apply not just to fast casual, but to other chain locations offering food service such as movie theaters, convenience stores and even vending machines.

Fortunately for these chains, in-restaurant digital signage dramatically reduces the work required to comply with these new regulations. Rather than tear down and replace traditional signage, in most cases it’s a simple matter of pushing new content to restaurants’ digital signage networks. And in many cases, this legislation was the catalyst that drove restaurants to make the leap to digital. Consequently, digital signage is more prevalent in restaurants than ever before. Restaurants that invest in a 4K-ready signage network are ideally positioned to thrive in the face of these new regulations. Squeezing detailed nutritional data onto a single screen becomes much easier when high-res source files are pushed to a 4K display (for an example of how great a menu board can look on a 4K display, come visit our booth next week at NRA Show in Chicago!).

Digital menu boards have evolved far beyond their initial function as a passive way for restaurants to display their menus. Content can be updated quickly via a tablet interface to adjust the menu in real time as specials are added and depleted menu items are removed. Restaurants can also queue up promotional deals to run at happy hour and other pre-determined times. In short, savvy restauranteurs are using digital menu boards as dynamic marketing tools to drive additional revenue.

But our players now power much more than just digital menu boards. They’re embedded in kiosks that enable patrons to order their meals without the need for a cashier, they’re improving the drive-through experience, they’re driving back-of-house networks to train employees and streamline kitchen efficiency, and they’re even part of the entertainment experience by delivering live TV and streaming music services. Restaurants are constantly finding new ways to enhance the dining experience with audio and video delivered via our media players.

For restaurant chains that already embrace digital signage, incorporating nutritional information is quite simple. In fact, many chose to comply with the new menu-labeling regulations long before compliance was mandatory.

For restaurants that aren’t yet compliant, fear not: digital menu board hardware costs are manageable, and intuitive authoring tools now make content creation and publishing a very straightforward process. Now more than ever, there’s really no excuse for restaurants not to go digital. Regulatory compliance aside, integrating digital signage into the restaurant experience is a win-win for restaurants and customers alike.

About the Author

BrightSign CEO Jeff Hastings joined BrightSign in August 2009 while it was still a division of Roku Inc. In late 2010 with digital signage activities growing so rapidly, BrightSign became a separate firm. The holder of eight U.S. patents, he also has a history of tech industry leadership, including as president of mp3 pioneer Rio.