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360 Media Innovations installed a 37-inch Samsung LED television in the main bar area and an array of Elan audio components, including two S86P Multi-Zone Audio Controllers and a DT11 tuner. Powering the system are four Crown amplifiers.
October 12, 2012 | by Robert Archer

The restaurant business is extremely competitive and challenging. Failure rates are high. But integrators can give their restaurant and bar clients a competitive edge through ambiance.

Many restaurants are paying more attention to the audio content they distribute in their dining rooms. Custom audio playlists were once the domain of high-end restaurants but they’re trickling down to casual dining businesses, according to the Associated Press.

Michael Smith, chief executive of The Playlist Generation, a Los Angeles-based creator of customized playlists, tells the AP that bars that play faster music grow their lunch sales by as much as 40 percent. A 2010 study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign backs up Smith’s assertion to a point when it concludes music can influence a person’s mood.

“When you’re dining the food is important, the smell is important, the way it looks is important. And what you’re listening to is important,” says Jonathan Neman, co-owner of the Washington D.C.-based restaurant chain Sweetgreen, in the AP story.

Listening to music is good for the restaurant business because it actually increases the amount of food people eat; at least, that point was made in a Smithsonian.com blog, “Food & Think,” maintaining that food consumption can be boosted by the right type of background music and citing a study done by in 2006 by the journal Appetite.

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“Music is very important; nobody likes dead air,” says Billy Griffin, restaurateur and CEO of the N.H.-based Rockingham Restaurant Equipment. Restaurants should shoot for an atmosphere that promotes a festive eating environment. “It does depend on the theme of the restaurant, however. If I get an Italian restaurant, I play big band and jazz; if it’s a pizza shop, I play easy listening music and not elevator music.”

Acoustics Define Conversations

As the restaurant industry has evolved to include more customer-friendly elements, interior design has become an important part of many modern restaurants. However, savvy restaurant owners are now discovering that those flashy interior designs don’t always complement the aural environment of an establishment.

Frederick Ampel, owner of Technology Visions Analytics, an Overland Park, Kan.-based systems design and acoustical consulting firm, and an instructor for NSCA, InfoComm and AES, advises restaurant owners and interior designers to seek electronics installation companies or acousticians with knowledge of room acoustics to strike a balance between the desired ambiance and client friendliness concerns a restaurant may encounter. Restaurants can be “an acoustic nightmare,” Ampel says, adding that about 80 percent of restaurants suffers from hard surfaces, parallel walls and reflective environments that make sound reproduction difficult.

Integrators need to acknowledge that most restaurant owners and interior designers don’t have even a basic understanding of acoustics, Ampel adds. He advises integrators to explain to restaurant owners and interior designers the cause-and-effect scenarios of acoustics and noise levels without getting too technical. “They [restaurant owners] have to look at everything. If you want ‘A,’ you need to do ‘B’ and ‘C.’ You want background music, you want the sound in the sports bar to be intelligible, but you have to modify the environment, and you have to look at the cost-benefit ratio.”

Given the high noise levels in a sports bar, Ampel advises integrators that they “might need to push the sound out at 90dB or more because it has to cut through an environment that has noise levels as high as 85dB.”

There are also emergency notification considerations when the noise levels are so high. “You also have to consider the problems this creates when you need to get people out of this place in case there is a fire, for example,” Ampel says. “Hearing a fire alarm can be an issue at those ambient noise levels. Getting that information out in that loud of an environment becomes a serious problem. This is when it also becomes a geographical issue. Some cities require more [regulations] than others, but it depends on the code.

“There have been instances where restaurants have been cited because of their fire/emergency communications systems being inadequate. Those systems are tested when the restaurant is empty. Fill that room up with 300 adults who are drinking and it’s a different environment. If you are an owner of a restaurant, the cost of a life-safety code violation can be significant. It can include the place being shut down. These are things worth thinking about.”

About the author

Robert Archer is CI's product editor. He has been covering the electronics industry for more than a decade.
View all posts by Robert Archer
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