AV Installation Tips for Bars, Restaurants, and Nightclubs

Published: 2020-10-14

For many AV systems integrators, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs are the bread-and-butter of their income. These spaces need precision lighting control, automation, audio and video systems to keep their atmospheres consistent and enjoyable for clientele.

But bar and restaurant AV systems can be complicated, especially for installers who are new to the market or new to installations in general.

So we’ve interviewed experienced installers who specialize in this market for some bar & restaurant installation tips. If you have a colleague who is new to the field — or if you already work in these markets but could use a mental checklist — we hope you’ll keep this guide at the ready.

Chris Mascatello, EVP, Technology Solutions, ANC

What are some common issues that occur when you are installing these systems?

The biggest reoccurring issue that we have found in these types of systems is a tendency for the end-users to overload more features than they can afford or handle from an operational standpoint into their wish lists. This creates cost overruns due to excess equipment and a localized infrastructure that is incredibly unwieldy.


One of our key jobs as an owner’s rep and/or integrator is to serve as an “editor” of these initial thoughts and help guide the client to a robust and functional system that still stays within their budget and is something that can, in most cases, be operated by their existing staff.

One of the most important things to remember is that, in most cases, the AV system is not the primary reason for the success of a bar, restaurant or club.

Our job is to create an A/V build that is a supporting part of the overall look and feel (and sound) of the space. We want the end-users to have a flexible system that they can easily use without weighing them down with complex features, configurations, and signal routings.

Any best practices come to mind?

We do our best to steer our clients away from too much bleeding-edge technology and next-generation audio and video formats that are still years from mass rollout.

Our usual advice is to have the customer put together a narrative of what they would like the finished space to be and what type of clientele they are expecting, with a focus on the first few years of the project going “live.”

How about any common snafus, or the most important things to remember?

One thing we stress to our clients at the start of the design process is that time is our most valuable asset. We can avoid most every AV snafu when we have the necessary time analyze the design as it comes together.

We worked collaboratively with the Los Angeles Dodgers for several years to fine-tune the design and functionality of a new centerfield fan experience area, with the new Centerfield Bar including a long above-bar 1.5mm fine-pitch LED display to feature multiple games along with an integrated ticker carrying up-to-the-moment scores and stats.

The size of the screen proved to be a major consideration – going too small risked muddy video images and a ticker with illegible fonts, going too large would dominate the physical space and take focus away from the live event environment going on in the Stadium.

In the end, we hit a home run with the design – the screen is incredibly useful and flexible without be “too much.”

What would you tell someone who is newer to this market — anything you wish you knew when you first started?

We always need to keep in mind that we are not building these bar and restaurant AV systems for ourselves. Our job is to facilitate the client’s vision and leave them with a system that can be used to its full capability day-in and day-out for years to come.

By listening to their wishes, requirements, concerns and fears, we will be better able to leave them with a custom and fine-tuned asset that will help contribute to the success of their business endeavor.

Ron Moore, VP, and Mike Stocklin, Director of Engineering & Programming, Automation Arts

What are some common issues that occur when you are installing these systems?

First common issue we almost always experience is the timeline and budget.

Most bars and restaurants have limited dollars but large technology appetites. So working through what they want for A/V and what they can afford is the first and most important step.

From an architectural side, the aesthetics are always important and that leads to challenges to mounting, access and locations of displays, speakers and controls of the technology.

Any best practices come to mind?

Number one would be keeping the system simple to use, with the common turnover of employees in bars and restaurants, providing an easy to use system/interface is very important.

Using commercial and professional equipment is important from a stability side and minimizes the risk of equipment failure during open hours of operation.

Too many times we see residential equipment installed in these types of facilities and can see and hear the performance difference.

How about any common snafus, or the most important things to remember?

Most commonly again we see residential systems being used in many bars and restaurants along with locations of equipment not being taken into consideration blocking views of displays and audio throughout the spaces.

What would you tell someone who is newer to this market — anything you wish you knew when you first started?

Always start by establishing a realistic budget for a solid design.

Tour other bars and restaurants to experience what others have done. With the Mecca Sports Bar and Grill we toured a large similar size venue to gather some ideas and also identify what we would have done differently, that was really our jumping off point in the Mecca process.

We spoke to the end users and asked them what they liked and what they didn’t like about the systems they were using, this was very helpful in the process of our design.

Mike Ingram, senior programmer/technical supervisor, Emerge Workplace Technologies

What are some common issues that occur when you are installing these systems?

In a conference room, there’s generally a specific IT or AV person, someone that is the go-to user who’s been trained on the system, and does the troubleshooting; one or two people who are responsible for that system.

In a bar/restaurant, literally every employee from the dishwasher to the head chef will at some point have to be thrust into service to get something working.

Friday night at 7pm during dinner rush: if a TV isn’t showing the game for whatever reason, SOMEONE will get in the rack and try to “fix” it because there’s 100 angry diners complaining that they can’t watch the game.

Another issue is that there are a MILLION reasons a restaurant system can fail.

Maybe it’s just not routed right, because your touch panel interface isn’t as intuitive as you think it is, and the manager you actually trained on the system hasn’t worked there for years.

But back-of-house space is also at a premium, so your system will likely be part of, or at least nearby, a very active area. So maybe the system has been turned on for a decade in a corner of the basement, all the cooling fans are blocked with dirt and some equipment is going into thermal shutdown.

Maybe a mouse ate a cable, or a pipe leaked into the rack, or a tray of drinks got spilled onto the front of it.

It could be entirely out of your control – perhaps someone didn’t pay the cable bill, or that particular TV channel is having an outage, or the satellite dish got moved in a storm.

Dinner rush on a Friday night is a front-line battlefield situation. If the main TV over the bar doesn’t work, the first thing that will happen is someone will get recruited to “fix” it.

This could be a person who knows how the system works, or someone who got hired yesterday and “knows a little bit” about this or that.

Cables will get swapped, power will be cycled, everything that can be done to “MacGyver” something just to get it to work—it will all happen at some point, no matter what you do. And you can’t blame them, they’re in a warzone, and it has to work!

The only thing you can do is to really work hard on planning, and do your homework on the design and installation stages, if you don’t want to be doing a service call every Monday morning.

What would you tell someone who is newer to this market — anything you wish you knew when you first started?

Think about how the users will interact with the system – this can be as simple as a bunch of IR remotes in a drawer, all the way to a full Crestron or AMX control system, etc.

If it’s a bunch of remotes, make sure they’re clearly labelled. Whatever the system, make sure it makes sense for the users and the environment. In a conference room, most of the presenters will have used a similar system in the past – but you can’t assume that everyone is on the same skill level.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. You might think it’s great to have a touch panel page with a full matrix and be able to route anything anywhere – but that’s because YOU do it every day. Does anyone that works at this bar know how matrix routing works? Do they need to?

Will they ever actually need to display Cablebox #6 on TV #12, or is it more likely to put them into a rabbit hole where things aren’t showing up on the right TVs?

LABEL EVERYTHING. Manage your wires, leave service loops so if a cablebox dies, there’s enough slack to move the HDMI to the unit next to it, etc.

Again, anticipate that someone besides yourself will be unplugging things at some point no matter what you do. If you get a phone call and you can easily talk the bartender through patching around an issue, they may be able to get back up and running immediately. It might even save you a trip and get you brownie points that the system is “easy to use.”

How about any common snafus?

Unreliable or unsuitable control systems/programming. Ideally, a control system has two-way communication with what it’s controlling – if I send it to channel 32, the TV sends back “yes I’m on channel 32.”

But many times, whether it be for budget reasons or anything else – you’re stuck with IR control, or other one-way communication, and it’s possible for to get the system out of sync.

Too many control options. For instance the user will probably want to turn the music up or down in the restaurant, and maybe turn the patio up or down separately, but they probably don’t need individual control of all 12 speaker zones in the dining room.

Cableboxes / satellite receivers put out a ton of heat – MAKE SURE the rack is ventilated properly, especially when 20 of them are jammed in the same rack. If you don’t, they’ll fail every 6 months and it’s a headache.

Honestly the biggest snafu I usually see is under-spec’d equipment. Bar/Club/Restaurant technology systems are often limited by budget, but they still need what they need. I see a lot of blown speakers and amplifier because there’s not enough headroom or power to make the system loud enough over a Friday night crowd.

Even if you are limited by budget, if you buy a Yugo to pull a boat trailer, the engine will explode, and that will cost even more money – maybe you can find a base-model pickup truck for the same price, that may not have a CD player or air conditioning, but will do the job properly.

Any other things you wish you knew when you first started?

If you’ve never actually worked in the foodservice industry, go get a job in a bar for a couple of months – it will give you GIGANTIC insight into how to design a system for that environment!

I go in and replace systems all the time that were clearly created by a company that’s used to corporate situations— again, conference rooms are closed, safe, clean environments, and those types of systems don’t usually fare well in the high-stress, messy chaos that is the service industry.

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Tagged with: Installation Tips

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