How a few menu board tweaks generated sales for A&W

The root beer and burger chain reconfigured its menu boards to emphasize its more popular items. The result was consistently improved sales.
A&W root beer
A&W found consumers love its beverages most but also like sides like cheese curds and its Double Cheeseburgers. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

A&W Restaurants wanted a menu board that accentuated its more popular items and featured more photos and so, like any good editor, the company opted to remove some things to make room for the changes.

You know, like dollar signs.

“We wanted more real estate to emphasize more key products,” CEO Kevin Bazner said in an interview. “We made our calories and prices the same font size and took the dollar signs off the menu board. We looked at all that to maximize the real estate and dedicate it to unique, premium products.”

The result: A&W in tests was able to improve sales without actually changing the menu. The company eased ordering and emphasized premium products such as its cheese curds and its double cheeseburger. The result was more sales with only minimal changes.

Restaurants that tested the new menu board last year performed “consistently better than trend,” Bazner said. “Consumers are getting it.”

A&W tested the menu board at select restaurants for most of 2022. It was successful enough that the menu is being rolled out to the rest of the system. Bazner said that restaurants that just made the changes to their menu boards are seeing similar results thus far in 2023.

The Lexington, Ky.-based chain, which operates more than 500 locations throughout the U.S., was sold to franchisees by the fast-food operator Yum Brands in 2011. The company said it has generated consistent same-store sales growth in the years since then—until 2022.

In an interview, Bazner said that same-store sales were negative by less than 1%, which he attributed to difficult comparisons following a strong 2021. He said same-store sales remain more than 30% higher than they were before the pandemic.

Thus far in 2023, he said, sales growth has picked up again, up 8% so far. “Three to four weeks don’t make a baby,” he said, “but I’ll take plus eight versus minus eight any day.”

A&W was looking for simple ways to optimize its menu and drive sales and profits. Before the pandemic, the company researched what items generate the most positive responses from consumers. The goal was to determine if it could reconfigure its menu boards in the restaurants and the drive-thrus to push sales of those products.

It found customers like the chain’s beverages—it has the second highest incidence of beverage orders in the industry, Bazner said. And consumers really like sides like its cheese curds and chili cheese fries. Customers also like its snacks and prefer its higher-end burgers, notably its double cheeseburger.

So the company reconfigured its menu boards to give more real estate to those products. It gave a stronger position to cheese curds over french fries, for instance. The difference is not insignificant. “That’s a $4 side versus a $2 side.”

Meanwhile, the company replaced the single cheeseburger in one of its combos with a double cheeseburger, a move that also enabled A&W to take some price. The company already sells more double cheeseburgers than it does single cheeseburgers.

The company also increased the number of combos on its menu from eight to 10.

“It’s all about penny profit,” Bazner said. “It’s profitable same-store sales for our franchise partners. That’s the way to do it.”

A&W did pull two items off its menu board, a small drink and that single cheeseburger. Both remain on the actual menu, however.

Indeed, nothing the company did changed A&W’s basic menu, but Bazner said that’s the next step. “We’re working on that now,” he said, noting that it is looking at some items that have a lot of ingredients but not a lot of customers.

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