Starbucks Experiments with Digital Menuboards

I just stumbled upon a store with digital menu boards at a Starbucks.  What an eye-grabber! It is 3 LCD panels, with one panel fixed with hot beverage menu.  The center LCD piece stays fixed and lists the hot beverages, and all espresso beverages.  The far left piece slowly fades through a variety of promotional signage, such as the Yukon signage, “something bold is brewing” promotion, and Pike Place Roast signage.  The far right LCD piece is visually split into two segments. The segment nearest to the hot espresso menu is an extension of the menu, and it lists all the cold beverages.  The other half of this far left menu board slowly rotates through promotional signage for things like the dark cherry mocha, breakfast sandwiches, and the like.

It’s beautiful to see and somehow easier to read than the menu boards that I normally see.  In King County (the county where Seattle is) there is a local ordinance requiring calorie information on menu boards.  As a result of this, all the Seattle Starbucks menu boards just end up looking cluttered with too much information squeezed into precious space.  I realize that many people want to see calorie information on a menu board, but I am not a big fan of it.  I may hold the minority position on that topic.

What do you think? Do you like it? I give this two thumbs up.

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  • rob

    This will sound strange coming from someone that loves to sit in Starbucks with his iPhone surfing the net on the wifi, but those big video screens are sort of the antithesis of the hand chalked signs and the wondrously mechanical if not exactly low-tech atmosphere of grinding coffee, making espressos, and steaming milk. I suppose that I could get used to it and would probably cease to even notice it after a couple of visits.

  • Nob

    Hi Melody, that is pioneer square?

  • Skooter McGoo

    NYC is the first place I had really seen calories counts on things everywhere and found that I could truly be a fan of this idea. When nutrition labels were put on food products standard in the USA I thought what an awesome idea to help educate in what U are eating and what it is all about. I have to say that even being from the food industry it changed my choices more than a few times. While grabbing and espresso and a snack before a movie with a friend, (not a Sbux) I thought a oatmeal raisin cookie would do nicely until I read the numbers. Come to my shock that the choc chip cookie was actually of a more healthy nature, who knew? I’m not sure everyone wants the facts of the beverage/pastry/sandwich the wish to purchase. I do wonder in cities/counties where this the norm if this has changed a lot of minds on purchases. I mean the new DCM 3’s would make me not purchase it from the calorie count alone, but maybe it’s just me. Keep the info coming, some of us love finding out the “skinny” tee hee from you.

  • Skooter McGoo

    That was supposed to be DCM #’s instead but I guess that’s what happens when I haven’t had my coffee yet. BTW I got Ur back on SG about the opening of bags of 1# coffees. It’s funny that I just did it yesterday and you posted that. Tip a #whatsinyourcup

  • Nob

    oops, that is not pioneer square store I understood.
    The LCD panel is cool. That will become more attractive by combination with the message board of the freehand. I want to watch it.
    About calorie information, I like plain menu boards. I mean, simple design.(For example, the menu board which is simple with boldness such as 1st&Pike)

  • Kristin

    Where is this?! I am visiting Seattle and would love to see it!!

  • Lee

    I have to say, it looks like McD’s. I agree with the poster commenting on the chalk board experience/vibe, and how this ain’t it. :)

    I know some environments have issues with more space for data (calories, etc.), but the last thing I want in a SBUX is an LCD screen, moving or not.

  • Melody

    (Reply to Kristin, Rob, Lee, LatteRose) @Kristin – This is not in Seattle. It’s in another county, north. Visually, it is stunning to see a digital menu board. It appears bright and pops out at you.

    @Rob & Lee Though, you’re right, it’s in direct contrast to the homey feel of chalk menuboards.

    @LatteRose – Hey I like that you got a gravatar! Very nice.

  • Suzanne Cossaboon

    Definitely not my “cup of coffee”. That sign is like a slap in the face.

  • camspi

    I don’t like these, either… but perhaps I’m not the “target audience”. Maybe business types like LCD screen menus… but me personally, I like the pictures I’ve seen of the chalk board menus. Maybe depending on the neighborhood of the Starbucks, they might spread these out more…?

  • Jane

    As the barista who does the chalk art at my store it makes me a little sad. I doubt us down in north Texas would ever get something like this ANY time soon but I know my favorite part of Siren’s Eye setup is drawing the boards and I know customers notice them. I think the only places I’ve seen LCD boards were in movie theatres and in the new Cowboy’s stadium in Arlington. Starbucks just doesn’t seem like the right fit for that right now.

  • LatteRose

    My initial reaction is that I wouldn’t care for them. I like the chalk boards. They have a warmer, more welcoming feeling to them.

    (By the way, happy “Pi” day!)

  • Chris W

    I started thinking about the different types of menu boards that were present in stores when I was a partner. First we had the ones with slats that took one person 2 hours to change when we had a promo setup. Second was the magnetic version, which inevitably looked crooked, and you would run out of one of the dollar tiles like the twos or threes. Finally we have the current version which are basically posters inserted into a frame. In that context, the LCD boards sound like just another improvement.
    Then I thought about it in a different context: three giant screens are bound to be using a good amount of electricity. That doesn’t sound very socially responsible to me.

  • CABarista

    HORRIBLE! It makes me think I walked into tim hortons where the employees don’t give a hoot about me, or maybe mcdonalds. Not to mention that chalk art will vanish and that will be a huge tragedy

  • Melody

    (Reply to Chris W) Chris, I nearly wrote in my blog post that maybe these are more environmentally sensible since the stores don’t have to go through a bunch of paper. But part of what makes them so eye-grabbing in real life is that it is BRIGHT! Since I have no idea how much electricity these things suck up, I decided to make no comment about whether it is a “green” thing to do.

    Hand chalked barista art is still by far the most warm and welcoming thing for a store. Those these LCD menus will turn heads faster. It’s big, in your face, and bright. I like them but would despise it if this were the demise of barista art.

  • Chris W

    I don’t want to try to do the math, but I’m pretty sure the menu boards are only changed about 6-8 times per year. At 18-24 posters per year, I’m pretty sure you’re talking about paper being less of an impact (especially when you take into account the impact of producing, shipping, and installation of the screens) than a slew of new computer screens.
    I’m sure they look better than the traditional menus (I’ve been into the stores that have the iTunes LCD displays, those are pretty eye-catching), but in my opinion it also continues a dangerous path for the stores to have less individuality such as the barista art can provide.

  • Sarah

    I like that idea, as long as it doesn’t mean the end of chalkboard art. I haven’t seen these at a Starbucks, but some theaters I’ve been to have them and they really are excellent as far as being able to read them. On our Starbucks boards, we don’t have a calorie count display, but I can imagine how much easier to read they’d be on LCD screens.

    Curious to see how long it takes them to bring these LCD screens to Texas, if they decide to make the change and start using them everywhere.

    And personally, as far as calorie count goes, I think it’s good to make it available, but putting it on the board next to each drink sounds rather crowded.

  • AmazonV

    Technologically the board enable you to change your signs more by time of day, pitch breakfast sandwiches in the AM and cookies in the PM.

    Theses changes can all be scheduled in advanced, centrally (at HQ) and the stores don’t need to worry about it. This enables the signs to use the space better (changing more frequently). You also can decide, in HQ, at the last moment to do a promotion and have it out much faster and quarantined (no hoping everyone gets their new promotion stuff on time and puts it out on time) in all locations at the same time.

    It also saves time from needing to have a local partner manage or update the sings. You can use video and motion to be more attractive and entertaining (while your waiting in line).

    The new signage is pretty low energy usage honestly and is usually keyed to auto turn off during store closure hours automatically.

    So I see the advantages (we use these in our Burger Studio and other concepts) from a centralized marketing, IT, and consistency standpoint.

    But to everyone’s point, I do hope that some chalk art can stick around to give each store it’s on unique homey and fun feel.

  • Karl Dahlquist ~ karldotcom

    Ha! An even better use would be congestion pricing that changes based on the time of day. You could charge more for drip in the morning, and less in the afternoon.

    Ever see people hang out in the 7-11 waiting for those Lotto Balls to be picked live on TV’s? Perhaps SBUX can do something similiar.

  • Brendan206

    I haven’t seen these LCD menu boards in person, but I really like the idea of them: bright, legible, with the ability to alternate the promotional display on the far left panel and part of the right panel. Anything that can increase the legibility and visibility of the menu seems like a good idea. Somewhere in downtown Seattle is a coffee shop whose menu uses black text on a mirrored glass background—they’re unreadable. These LCD Starbucks screens would be the antithesis. =)

  • Mrs. Tillinghamshackles

    I think it’s important to note that in this store (which I visit a couple times a month) the new LCD boards don’t take the place of the chalkboards. They are still in place (this store has some FANTASTIC artists!). They just replace the boards that had paper inserts anyways. They aren’t super bright and garish, they just pop a bit and are much more legible. It REALLY took me aback at first, but I’m with Mel, I really like them.

  • Fresh Brews: Coffee Inahers And A Car That Runs On Coffee — Daily Shot Of Coffee

    […] Melody Starbucks Experiments with Digital Menuboards Have you seen any of the digital menus at Starbucks? I haven’t. I kind of thought there […]


      I am a fan of the menu boards because you can easily see them and it makes Starbucks seem so less backwards. I mean you can change signs and promote items that you wouldn’t be able to. Like a warm breakfast sandwich with real steam rising off of it? You have to love it.
      We have plenty of other chalkboards in my store to express ourselves on.
      I think it would be good to have a special message from “Howard Schultz” every few minutes talking about coffee farmers and another one about what music is currently playing.

    • Melody

      Ah you know BostonStarbucksRebel, the thing that makes you completely lovable is your very original thinking style. Of course, it occasionally makes you annoying too. But I laughed out loud at the thought of Howard coming on the menu boards with a spontaneous message to partners & customers. But there was no sound with these LCD menu boards… That’s a bit of a hurdle.

    • ALN

      1. I agree with the points made here, that this is somehow exactly the opposite of the feeling Starbucks is supposed to give. It wants to be a local coffee house, specializing in a slow down and really experience the coffee vibe. Hard to do when it’s lit like Time Square.

      2. I enjoy the calorie counts. I’ve been dissuaded from buying those fat and calorie bomb drinks many times, and have learned to make better choices. It’s probably bad for Starbucks’ bottom line though!

    • Darth Sidamo

      I am all for it. Main reason? Atleast in my area we are not allowed to put anything on the boards other that Sirens Eye. Its like if you arent exactly sirens eye in every single thing to every single detail then it is the end of the world. Period.

      On a related note I was sweeping our always spotless parking lot today because we are required to 3 times a day by my anal DM that has no clue how a store actually works. I looked over at a 6 car line in drive through in a store that does 55-45 DT to Cafe business with only two partners on the floor because I was forced to be outside picking up every last cigarette butt off of our quarter acre parking lot off of the dirtiest road in the city. Isnt it awesome that the focus is on deep cleaning while you have customers because Ecosure is impossible while you are understaffed already.

      I totally feel bad for customers that have to wait an additional five minutes because of the unreal expectations we have.

    • Kat aka Darkkatpouncing

      MEH! Ok the shiny bright got my attention but I felt like I was looking at a picture of a Krispy Creme Doughnuts or something. :/ I’m not too excited about it. I like the chalk board look better. Eventually I would get used to the digital boards but…I really like the chalk boards. I also need to pay more attention – I didn’t realize some of the starbucks had started squeezing on nuturitional info. I’m exactly looking for it either so that could be it. *shrugs*

      So for the digital signage: I liked the “pop” of it initially and then started looking for the hand written chalk boards. 😀

    • denise r.

      Ohhhhh, appreciate the info. Melody, as always but I hope NO NO NO to these going national….very fast-food looking to me, and as quite a few others have mentioned, in direct contrast to a “chalkboard” which, to me, is how it should be in a coffee shop.

      They did this ‘neon’ sign thing with all the Chicago Public Schools, most of which are very old (but beautiful, even the ones in the worse neighborhoods…the bldgs have lasted and lasted and lasted, in many cases) Anyway, they ALL have these signs now and they look so trashy. so trashy. They don’t fit with the bldgs., not to mention what happens to them….the signs. So, this is how I feel about such signage inside Sbux….doesn’t fit. :(

    • ChickenFreak

      Freaky! But they need to do more than just menu stuff with them. Pictures. Cartoons. Animations. Sayings. A photo montage of baristas in Halloween costumes. And like that.

    • Paco

      They could always just make an image of chalkboards where the menu is and keep the other items. No one in our store is good at the Offerings board, and our handwriting is horrible. Best of both worlds maybe?

    • Enlightened Coffee Sage

      You kids these days with your fancy digital lights and your iPhones and your interweb twitter feeds! We don’t need that newfangled horsehockey in our coffee shops! It’s not like how it used to be, when we chiseled our menus on clay tablets with a stylus!

      To me, what makes Starbucks Starbucks is the quality of our products and the connection with our customers. It isn’t whether we have digital signboards or start selling sandwiches or sell 32-oz. drinks or most of the other things that so many people signify as the deathknell of Starbucks. When you come right down to it, most of that stuff is trivial.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the biggest thing hurting Starbucks is their policy of pinching pennies at the cost of quality, particularly in regards to sufficient labor and proper communication and training. Starbucks is turning into fast food because they’ve started treating the employees like fast food employees and running the stores like a fast food chain, not because of digital signs.

      Think about it like this: would you rather come into a Starbucks with a glowing digital menu board and neon green plastic tables with neon purple plastic chairs and stainless steel walls, all of which were immaculately clean and sterile, and baristas in silver jumpsuits who were friendly and knowledgable and always made your drink with skill, care, and attention and could tell you all about their products…

      Or would you rather come into a nice cozy Starbucks with warm earth tones and soft carpet and lovely chalkboard art and a lovely hand-scripted menu and trash all over the counters and overflowing garbage cans and have to wait 5 minutes to be helped by an exhausted barista who looks to be on the verge of either tears or murder and who treats you like a mild annoyance and knows nothing about anything and makes your drink wrong?

      Which of those is the better Starbucks? Which truly has the better atmosphere?

    • CABarista

      I was thinking of this post’s comments on the nutrition info when it started getting warm here and people graduated from grade lattes to venti frapps. I was wondering how the info affected /influenced people’s choices. I’m assuming most don’t realize the amount of calories they are intaking daily…this one guy comes in sometimes twice a day, and buys one. Just made me wonder. Could also have to do w/ the fact that my dh and i are trying to be healthier.

    • Joel VanderHoek

      It’s Marysville, WA on 88th Street.

    • Loren Nancarrow

      Word is the new digital signs Starbucks will be using are also equipped with cameras behind the lettering to gather customer data, about how our eyes travel on the menu, emotions evoked by various items, number of store visits etc. The ultimate goal is to control the digital menus from a central location and gather data so they can “better sell to consumers” or in less flattering language, manipulate us to buy more.
      Does this concern you?

    • Ashlee Lyman

      Hi Melody – I hadn’t seen this post! They are very cool, aren’t they?? The one I was at was 2245 Fenton Pkwy,San Diego, CA 921084737

    • Melody

      @Ashlee Lyman – THANK YOU for the huge tip! I had heard that there were digital menuboards in San Diego, and never knew exactly where. Though I’ve traveled to Southern Calif often, I’ve never gone hunting around for them. Now I know exactly which store to go visit next time I’m down that way. I have family in OC, so a quick trip to Southern California is always easy to do. My mother loves it. 😉

    • Joel VanderHoek

      I noticed that the digital sign at the store in Marysville, WA has been removed.

    • Melody

      @Joel VanderHoek – Maybe they shipped it to San Diego. 😉 Thanks for the update. I don’t get up that way too often, but at least now I know not to go looking for it there.

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