Business Resources - Design - November 2017


Celebration Station uses four 60-inch screens to display its food and drink offerings, daily specials, and packages (Credit: Celebration Station)

Steps for Successful Signs

How FECs can use menu signage to their advantage

by Mike Bederka

A family entertainment center’s (FEC) kitchen may whip up a five-star burger and vanilla shake, but if the menu board does a slipshod job of displaying the food and beverage (F&B) offerings, guests won’t know what a facility has to offer. Or even worse, they may be turned off by the selection.

Clear signage—including professionally shot photos—can convey a quality operation, speed up the line, and increase F&B revenue. Check out how FECs should make the most of that all-important menu.

Digital Does It

With the cost of televisions dropping significantly, Celebration Station in Mesquite, Texas, transitioned to digital menu signage more than three years ago, says General Manager Ted Marek. The FEC currently has four 60-inch screens, and he plans to upgrade to 70 inches to even better display the food and drink choices, daily specials, and packages.

The flexibility of digital signs provides an advantage over printed boards, he says. To push certain food (be it for a large group or items with a better profit margin), his team can easily change their positioning and size on the screen to make them more prominent.

Celebration Station’s menu—and any updates—get created in Photoshop and transferred to the TVs by a USB stick, Marek says. While simple and inexpensive to produce, the menu goes through careful review before being made public.

“What it looks on a computer versus a 60-inch screen is a lot different,” he notes. “There’s a lot more landscape. You have to stand back and check it out from a customer’s perspective. Can they really read this? We go through several revisions before we get to what we want.”

A Designer’s Eye:

Menu Dos and Don’ts 

FECs should take the same amount of care crafting the look of the menu as they do with making the food. Abby Guido, assistant professor of graphic and interactive design at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and owner of Abby Ryan Design, both in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers advice on how to avoid common menu pitfalls.

Skip the overdesigned, crazy fonts

Look to use a classic sans-serif display typeface. “You can never go wrong with the basics,” she says. “Helvetica or Gothic will always work.”

Build a system

Strong typography is about building a hierarchy or system. Select a typeface and style for similar information. Meaning, FECs can put the items in all caps and their descriptions in mixed case. “Set up rules and use them to help guests easily navigate the menu,” Guido says.

Pick a color palette and stay with it

Color should be part of the typographic hierarchy. For example, always use the same color for the headers that divide the food categories, such as sandwiches or pizza. This will let customers effortlessly scan the menu.

Space is your friend

“Don’t underestimate the value of spacing,” she says. “Leave space between menu items both vertically and horizontally.” Giving the eye a place to rest will help the customer not feel overwhelmed. Apply the same logic to a digital menu, where people tend to try to squeeze in even more info.


Picture Perfect

Laura Zorn, co-owner of Rebounderz in Jacksonville, Florida, completed a massive renovation in June 2016, including the transition of a glorified snack bar into a quick-service restaurant. Now, she plans to move to digital signage to complement the upgrade.

“We still have people coming in over a year later thinking we just sell tortilla chips with nacho cheese sauce,” she says. “We have a full pizzeria and serve burgers, quesadillas, chicken sandwiches, and more. We need to get that digital marketing up to educate the consumer.”

Zorn will hire a professional photographer to capture the scratch-made dishes. Stock images may be a much cheaper option, but she does not want to show off something that her kitchen did not cook. “It should be authentic,” she stresses. 

Designer Abby Guido agrees that finding appropriate stock photography can be a challenge. As an alternative for FECs on a budget, she recommends focusing on the ingredients rather than the final product. For example, a great photo of tomatoes could work better than a generic picture of a slice of pizza, says Guido, assistant professor of graphic and interactive design at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (See sidebar for more design tips.)


Rebounderz plans to swap these old signs for digital versions to better display its new menu. (Credit: Rebounderz)

Words Matter

Strong photography sells a dish, and poorly conceived DIY smartphone shots can have the opposite effect. However, the item description also plays a critical role on whether a family of four sticks around for a meal or heads for the door.

Zorn selects a few choice words to pump up the menu, which the self-described foodie conceived. For instance, the Bavarian soft pretzel bites come out “hot and fresh”; the spinach, artichoke, and bacon dip is “house-made and baked until bubbly”; and the chicken tenders are “perfect for dipping in your favorite sauce.”

Come next year, some FECs in the United States may be required to add another descriptive note to their boards: the number of calories per dish. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) menu-labeling requirement, which was originally set to take effect this year, is now scheduled to go live May 7, 2018. The final rule calls on restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name to provide calorie information for standard menu items, as well as additional written nutrition information available upon request, per the requirements in the Affordable Care Act.

“I think it’s good for consumers,” Celebration Station’s Marek says. “If that’s important, it gives them an opportunity to get something else instead.”

Some large chains already have voluntarily included calorie counts—a decision that has certainly impacted the meals Zorn buys elsewhere. 

“It is a deterrent,” she says. “Sometimes I say, ‘There’s no way I’m putting that into my body.’”

Zorn prides herself on not using processed ingredients in her kitchen and the popular lighter fare served, like salads, smoothies, and a veggie and hummus platter, but she admits some plates, such as the aforementioned spinach, artichoke, and bacon dip, may not be the healthiest snack around. If the FDA rule does at some point affect her FEC, she will not be afraid of a few menu tweaks.

“We’ll just have to adapt the recipes,” Zorn says. “We can always make the dishes healthier.”