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Sight & Sound

Your kitchen was designed to match the demands of your menu and volume of business. Your dining room was also laid with the upmost care. Yet, all too often restaurateurs overlay entertainment components that are not effectively integrated into the overall working of their restaurants.

When that happens, guests could be troubled with loud music in one area of a restaurant while it is barely audible in another. Or, because of video screen placement, some seats will be less desirable than others. Sticking a jukebox in the corner of your bar or a wall-mounted TV in your dining room may be a stop-gap measure, but it can't compare with a well-planned entertainment system.

To begin, determine what kind of entertainment system is most appropriate. The answer is based on clientele and the overall restaurant feel. For some, a sound system affords your guests optimal entertainment. Others might want to supplement the music with video screens, lighting systems, animatronics, or personal entertainment systems. Let's look at some of the options:

Another option is to program music via satellite or cable. Some internet-based music providers offer more than 100 different programs. Most importantly, they offer on-line profiles for each channel. The profile gives you an analysis of the energy level of the music, the style (instrumental or vocal), demographic appeal, and a playlist. The programs, delivered to your restaurant as streaming audio over a high-speed internet connection, have the rich tonal quality of a CD. Provide the amp and speakers and your restaurant is wired for sound.

One option is to create customized music. Specialized music can be created for any type of restaurant from the hippest martini bar to a local dive. And another thought is to burn a CD of the tunes you play so your customers can buy a copy and enjoy them at home or on the road.

Video. Video systems are frequently add-ons to the audio system, but the placement of screens is as important as the placement of speakers. Music videos are one option that's appropriate for mid- to high-energy establishments. If you cater to a business clientele, a TV feed from a stock-market feed will work. As with music, it's crucial to match the programming to the interests of your customers. It's also important to note that those interests may change by daypart. Lunch customers differ from the after-work crowd who want to wind down and have fun. Programming should be decided with these differing dayparts in mind.

Karaoke is another consideration especially if you cater to a gregarious crowd. You can find out if karaoke would be popular by setting it up for a trial run. Some karaoke systems have supplemental wall-mounted screens that can operate whether or not someone is singing along.

Moving over to more traditional programming, try a feed from live sporting or concert events. Such events can be a big draw and additional sales should compensate for the investment. Be carful though, large rear-screen projectors can eat up a lot of floor space. Front projection systems, unless ceiling mounted, pose a similar problem.

Plasma screens are another option. They are thin (about 31/4-in.), light (roughly 50 lb.), and provide a high-resolution picture. They can be installed almost anywhere, even flat on the ceiling.

Personal Entertainment Systems. Usually, restaurant entertainment systems are designed for groups. But it's always hard to meet everyone's entertainment needs. The Rockwell Design Group solved this problem at Philadelphia's Pod restaurant. They created environment pods in which sound, temperature, and lighting could be controlled separately.

Rest assured, total renovations are not necessary to offer guests personal entertainment options. Try internet-dependent personal kiosks that offer video games, movies, TV, music, and web browsing all at the swipe of a credit card. Kiosks incorporate a full keyboard so they can even be used as e-mail station.

While on the topic of games, don't overlook the appeal of video and other such games. Some operations—like those in the Kahunaville chain—install game rooms that appeal to young and old. Or a simple pool or billiard table will suffice. In more active settings, foosball or darts can provide entertainment for individuals and the gathered crowd.

After deciding what type of system is best for you, contact an acoustic consultant who can suggest type and location of speakers. You need to determine if music or other feeds will be background or foreground sound or a mix of both. Make sure that you can control sound levels. If your music is fed from the outside, you'll need advice on a cable, internet, and/or satellite hookup.

Once the decisions are made, take a close look at the service provider to determine all of the set-up and ongoing expenses—including any licensing fees. Check how well established the supplier is.

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