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Trends in Restaurant AV

the National Restaurant Association projects that overall restaurant industry sales will increase in current dollars by 2.5 percent over 2008.

Digital Signage's Reign Expands

On the AV front, certain things are here to stay, Gorodesky says. That includes an ongoing focus on digital signage (including implementation of interactive video displays), increased usage of flat-panel displays, multizoned audio systems, custom programming, and networked control systems to tie everything together.

"Flat screens have always been in bars, but I'm seeing owners use them a lot more in restaurants–not just in the bar part of the establishment but in the dining rooms," Gorodesky says.

According to last year's industry forecast by the National Restaurant Association, more than half of full-service restaurant operators surveyed offer TVs in their operations, and at least four in 10 see TVs becoming increasingly popular in restaurants in the future. On the consumer side, nearly three in 10 consumers surveyed said they would be likely to watch a small, at-table television if their favorite restaurant offered it. Most often, digital signage is used to display menus, table seating announcements, or advertising.

Digital video menu boards are another way restaurants–especially those in the quick-service or fast food segment–can improve operational efficiency and distinguish themselves from the competition. In fact, 14 percent of quick-service operators surveyed said they currently offer digital/video menu boards. In addition, 83 percent of operators said they believe these devices will become more popular in the quick-service segment in the future.

Blended AV and IT

"These days, restaurant and bar clients want more control over their audio and video," Gorodesky says. "They want to be able to run video with audio at different volumes and be able to move things around to accommodate the desires of private parties or special requests from customers."

At Forty 1° North marina resort in Newport, R.I., more than eight independent systems are integrated into one guest relations management system.Photo: Courtesy EFS Networks

Maria Cody, senior director for AVI-SPL working primarily in Las Vegas, agrees. She continues to see the standard multizoned audio setups in restaurants and notes that IT is playing a greater role in the design of these venues as well. Digital processing demands continue to increase the complexity of AV installations.

"More and more, these clients want to have the systems right on the backbone of the Ethernet," she says. "Because AV is almost an afterthought in many installations, we're trying to change that. By bringing AV earlier into the design process, customers will have a clearer idea of what they need, especially with all of the information-sharing considerations."

In addition to the ongoing adoption of digital signage and zoned AV, Gorodesky has noticed a somewhat new arrangement emerging–the birth of what he calls the "technology integrator" specialist.

"These are the guys who come in and take care of your phone, audio, video, security systems, surveillance, Internet, and point-of-sale–not just your AV–and coordinate everything from start to finish," he says. "That's a relatively new concept compared to the traditional systems integrator."

Exclusively targeting the hospitality market, EFS Networks in Philadelphia offers a hybrid of services to restaurant and bar clients, including IT general contracting and project management, technology budget planning, architectural planning and drawings for technology structured wiring and layout, and electrical planning/budget negotiation with the electrical trade.

Like Gorodesky, EFS CEO Evan Solomon believes future success in this niche hinges on a contractor's ability to handle multiple facets of technology.

"Our typical customers are those embarking on a hospitality development project and are quickly overwhelmed with untangling all of the decisions regarding adoption of technology," says Solomon. "Restaurants, bars, and hotels of any shape or size can use technology strategically–not just to take a reservation or play some background music. It's all a matter of how the design and implementation wrap around the vision and operations of the establishment, which a single vendor selling a single system doesn't take into account."

Although his firm performs much of the work itself–including IT infrastructure, wireless and network systems, phones, point-of-sale, e-commerce systems, Web design, and integration of guest management systems–Solomon has also established a network of reliable subcontractors, consultants, and industry partnerships (including AV consultants and installers) to handle components such as audio and video systems, burglar alarms, security card access, fire panels, and security cameras/CCTV.

EFS takes the lead role of project manager and design consultant, with installation assistance provided by business partners or subcontractors. Its AV projects have ranged from traditional background music systems to distributed audio and video systems, says Solomon, including what he calls "buffet of service" systems for private event and meeting spaces.

A good example of this concept is the newly constructed Forty 1° North marina resort in Newport, R.I. EFS integrated more than eight independent systems into one seamless electronic guest relations management system. A single guest card provides access to the facility and all of its amenities, serves as a house account in all revenue facilities (including the marina and Grill Restaurant), and tracks rewards points. On the back-end, the integrated guest program systems provide automatic billing of house charges and offers owners strategic information about guest preferences.

"As the hospitality industry profits greatly from private event sales–creating a buffet of AV and IT services that a restaurant can offer to clients allows the up-selling of these technology items just as [restaurants] sell an extra hot appetizer station or an upgraded liquor package for an event," says Solomon. "If a restaurant space can adapt to multiple event and use configurations, so must the audio, video, point-of-sale, and all other involved technology components."

Solomon maintains that a trend toward designing portable AV and IT components is the future of restaurant/bar installations in order to ensure such functionality can be sold like any other item on the menu. Examples of the buffet of services might includf: flexible distribution of music and video for all possible event configurations (including multiple input and output configurations); AV input and output panels strategically located in multiple event space zones, and open conduit pipes from front-of-house to back-of-house for future expansion or one-time event use; conference bridge lines and videoconferencing; distribution of customer audio and video; and a technology concierge–a dedicated resource for streamlining setup, tear down, support, and delivery of services for an event.

Although not always executed to this extent, Solomon says this concept is being embraced by restaurateurs on simpler projects, all looking for some degree of flexibility and portability in their AV systems.

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