Digital Signage

Engineering ‘Experiences’

Demand for AV expertise beyond signage.

The customer or end user has almost always been the focus of the design and implementation of interactive experiences. However, recent research and technology deployments in the restaurant industry reveal the importance of ensuring that those who have to create and serve up the “experience” can easily use the systems.

According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), research shows that “restaurants are hungry for technology without the headache.” More than 500 restaurant operators responded to a survey about their current and future adoption of customer-facing technologies, including digital menu boards. In “Mapping the Restaurant Technology Landscape,” the association provides tabulated data about the use of specific technologies, as well as opinions regarding future adoption. Although respondents agree on the benefits, some say that new technologies can complicate the restaurant experience. More about the findings later; first, let’s take a look at a recent project that addressed the challenges some chefs faced in cooking up a unique customer experience.

Zazios, a restaurant and bar in Kalamazoo MI, has been featuring its popular “Chef’s Table” for nearly a decade. The multicourse dinner and wine, cocktail or beer pairings demo gives up to 36 guests an entertaining “dinner and show” experience in stadium-style seating, enhanced with close-up views on a 60-inch Sharp monitor. Guests in the private dining room can also view the live cooking demo on an 80-inch Sharp display, and others can catch it on any of the TVs at the bar.

In the past, this event required the chef or wine connoisseur not only to “perform,” but also to operate the video capture and recording system. Although camera-angle selection was simplified to “step on the floor pad” or “push button with knee” when the chef moved from one station to another, the chefs approached the technology with trepidation.

When Zazios’ parent company Greenleaf Hospitality was upgrading the audio system in its nearby arena earlier this year, it sought the expertise of its trusty AV systems integrator Avtek, based in Battle Creek MI, to upgrade the AV system at Zazios. “The upgrade to HD was essential, but we also needed to address the chefs’ concerns,” said Andrew Walker, Owner of Avtek. During the needs analysis, Avtek met with several chefs to determine their needs and address prior issues. “They told us that they did not want to do anything with the TV system. They only wanted to cook, talk and entertain at the Chef’s Table,” Walker noted.

Restaurants typically are labor intensive, and adding video or tech staff, or bringing in an outside TV crew for each event, was not an option. Yet, the new system had to produce the desired “wow” and Food Network TV-like experience for Chef’s Table guests and other viewers.

Avtek engineered and installed a unique automated multi-camera HD production system using a Broadcast Pix Mica 1000 integrated production switcher with the VOX voice-automated production option, combined with Peavey’s MediaMatrix NION distributed audio system. Three Vaddio PTZ cameras capture video of the chef, but the switching solution uses small security cameras with motion analytics. When the chef moves from the prep station to the grill, for example, the motion detection analytic triggers a relay that the NION’s programmable logic uses to output pink noise to the VOX, based on which detection point is triggered. In turn, that commands the Mica to switch to the appropriate camera.

Walker said that the chef’s experience was further enhanced with a confidence monitor. Avtek also addressed another “chef’s headache” by muting the house audio feed in the Chef’s Table area during these dining experiences.

Shortly after the AV upgrade, two 55-inch LCDs for signage were installed at Zazios and are part of Greenleaf Hospitality’s building-wide digital signage network. With the video production upgrade at Zazios, the company’s network will also be able to tap into the high-quality content produced at Chef’s Table.

The full palette of AV-IT skills and knowledge of the latest technologies are often necessary to engineer a truly positive experience for all involved. This project combined an intimate knowledge of the most advanced audio, video, security and automated switching applications.

Going back to the NRA’s research report, only 21% of the restaurant operators surveyed said that they use digital menu boards. Another finding that may be of interest: 38% of table-service restaurant operators indicated that they would be devoting more resources to technology this year. The report includes tabulations of responses from both franchise/chain and independent restaurant operators on the barriers to adding customer-facing technology. Packed with data, the PDF edition of the report is available for download at a non-member price of $200 from www.restaurant.org.

User organizations in each market segment provide useful information and research about customer attitudes and trends. Browsing their websites can enhance your planning and strategic allocation of technical and sales resources, while also providing a recipe for cooking up profitable “experience” systems and solutions.

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