Dishing Digital

By Paul King, Editorial Director

Parkhurst Dining Services looks to go paperless as digital signage comes of age. FoodService Director - Marketing - digital signage - PNC BankPNC Bank in Pittsburgh and Parkhurst Dining Services, which manages PNC’s foodservice program, have been a good fit for each other. Among other things, the two companies are committed to following good environmental practices.

In PNC’s main cafeteria at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, that policy has been manifested in several ways, the newest of which has been Parkhurst’s paperless menus. In place since January, the digital signage placed strategically throughout the servery has served to provide PNC employees with everything from daily specials to corporate news.

Gone are the printed daily and weekly menus that customers could pick up at the entrance of the cafeteria, and Pattie Malloy, general manager for Parkhurst at PNC, is generally happy about it.

“We have gotten nothing but great feedback from customers ever since we started,” says Malloy. “They look great, they’re clean and they allow us to provide a good deal of information to customers.”

The digital signage at PNC takes the form of what are called picture frames: rectangular screens with a metallic border. There are nine picture frames at PNC, situated at the entrance to the servery, on display tables and at various stations. The screens will display a variety of information, depending on their location.

For example, at individual stations such as the Parkside Diner, the screens will display the items available at the station, along with prices and even nutritional information. At the entrance, the picture frame might show specials in rotation with company news or special events. On a display table promoting something like Parkhurst’s Hemisflavors or FarmSource programs, the screens might be used to display info about the featured cuisine or about local farmers providing produce to the PNC cafeteria.

Malloy notes that the digital signage took some getting used to.

“There were customers who were hesitant about the change because they were used to the printed menus set out on the counter,” she explains. “And there were people who thought the picture frames were touch screens where they could go and order things.”

She adds that using digital signage is a bit time-consuming; material must be programmed into a computer and placed on a USB stick, then loaded into the screens’ internal memory.

FoodService Director - Marketing - digital signage - PNC Bank“But there’s no paper any more, and my ink cost has gone down,” Malloy notes. “We’re helping PNC move toward its goal of using less paper.”

Parkhurst sees digital signage as the wave of the future and has begun using it in other accounts, such as Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pa., and Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. The company’s parent, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, uses three large digital media boards in the lobby of its corporate office in Homestead, Pa., to alert visitors to company information, upcoming events and personnel news.

“The technology presents a really good, high-quality advertising piece that captures customers’ attention,” says Chris Fitz, resident district manager for Parkhurst, who has been involved with testing the technology for the past couple of years. “It can be used not only to advertise menus and specials but also upcoming events and nutrition information, as opposed to printing various signs for each item. And in keeping with greening initiatives, digital signage helps to reduce the use of paper and ink.”

Much of what Parkhurst displays digitally in its test accounts is created by the company’s in-house IT. But Parkhurst has the option to use a hosted site through a software service.

Fitz explains that the technology is evolving quickly.

“The biggest challenge for us has been determining what is the best technology to use as it becomes available,” he says. “We started at PNC with the picture frames, but we use larger monitors at some units, like Saint Francis and Bucknell, and there is a complete array of digital media that we could take advantage of.”

He notes that the available technology allows foodservice departments to display anything from static menus to Web site ads to YouTube videos.

“We also have the ability to break down screens into quadrants to display multiple pieces of information,” Fitz adds. “On a larger footprint, like a 40-inch LCD monitor, that can have a great visual impact.”

PNC’s Malloy hopes to be able to make use of technology like that once Parkhurst’s new Eco-Bistro opens at a nearby PNC location.

“We only have the picture frames here [at PNC 1], but we’ll have the larger monitors at the Eco-Bistro,” she says. “It should be interesting to gauge customer feedback.”