LCD Menu Boards vs LED Menu Boards at the Drive Thru: A Comparison

lcd menu boards

The mission to boost quick service restaurant (QSR) sales has taken to the drive thru lane, with outdoor LCD and LED menu boards going head-to-head to become the screen technology of choice. As fast food chains look to improve the customer experience at the drive thru, are LCD or LED displays better suited to the task?

The debate over which is better, LCD or LED, has been a contentious one, especially when it comes to QSR drive thru use. Early installations of outdoor digital menu boards at the drive thru tended to use LED screens.

Why? Despite outdoor ready LCD displays being widely available, high costs meant they were almost exclusively used by the out-of-home advertising market (OOH). Investment in outdoor LCD displays could be justified as the revenue generated from advertising meant end-users quickly recouped their initial expenses.

LED Menu Boards

LED menu boards

'LED menu boards were the first steps into digital signage at the drive thru.'

LED menu boards were used in the fledgling years of digital drive thru displays, not because they were the best choice but because at the time, they were the only choice. LCD screens were pricier than their LED counterparts. However, cost wasn’t the only issue, using them outdoors proved to be problematic.

For starters, they were not bright enough to be seen in the sun. Equally, they couldn’t cope with the demands of being in operation outdoors, 24/7. In contrast, LED screens were far more developed and in use outdoors across other industry sectors. For instance, the first electronic billboards to appear in New York’s Times Square in 1996 were LED displays.

Digital LED boards in New York

'Digital LED boards in New York’s Times Square.'

However, early patrons of drive thru LED menu boards encountered problems with the quality of food images when using LED screens, leaving the market open for the development of a screen that was up to the task.

LCD Menu Boards

The use of outdoor LCD menu boards at the drive thru was slow going in the early years, and was in stark contrast to their use indoors at quick service restaurants. Several factors were behind the slow development of LCD menu displays at the drive thru, the first being that there was very little consumer demand...

...Lack of demand meant lack of product development, which kept the big screen manufacturers out of the market.

Secondly, LCD screens were simply not equipped for outdoor use. When LCD screen technology did advance in the form of brighter screens and adaptions for outdoor use, a solution was needed to ensure displays could cope with the extremities of the outdoors.

This resulted in the emergence of the digital signage enclosure market. Suddenly, QSRs were able to install LCD screens at the drive thru, housing them in outdoor digital signage enclosures that improved the lifespan of screens.

LCD menu boards at the drive thru

'The use of LCD menu boards at the drive thru has grown rapidly in recent years.'

Consequently, the rise in LCD screen use at the drive thru has seen LCD displays surpass LED displays as the screen of choice at the drive thru. Why? While the cost of LCD screens has dropped, the rising price of LED displays has made them a less viable option financially for QSRs looking to install digital menus at the drive thru.

Value for Money

In ‘value for money’ terms, the emergence of QSR outdoor digital signage enclosures for LCD screens means that your fast food chain can prolong the life of its LCD displays to keep costs down and in turn, you get more for your money.

That’s why many of the digital drive thru menu board installations hitting the news in recent years, like those carried out by Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFC, are using LCD screens as their menu boards as it’s a lower-cost entry point into digital signage at the drive thru.

If you’re a QSR looking to install drive thru digital signage, chances are you already have access to LCD screens that you’re using indoors. You probably have a reliable supplier too, therefore, it is safe to say that there’s no need to invest in LED screens if LCD displays are readily available to you.

After all, TV technology experts would argue that all LED screens are LCD screens using LEDs as their backlighting.