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Prioritizing your restaurant electronics

by Steven Rosstad

How do you prioritize your construction budget and make the right decision? This is a list I created, based upon working with successful restaurateurs over my 25 year career.

a. Plan every detail in advance.
b. Buy used or rebuilt big-ticket items, when possible.
c. Use what can be renovated or salvaged easily and inexpensively.
d. Open your restaurant before Thanksgiving, so you receive as much of the seasonal business as possible. If you’re opening in a vacation area, be ready before the season starts.
e. Pre-Market your new restaurant as soon as you sign the lease!
f. Choose an architect, designer and builder who specialize in restaurants. Using non-restaurant talent will have you spending more pre and post construction.
g. Get frontage with lots of glass and good signage for building walk in traffic.
h. Find and train your staff 6-8 weeks before you open.
i. Have a budget for all your electronics. POS, Telephone, Audio, Video, Data and CCTV security. Including an electronic system(s) plan.
j. Removing cooking odors, environmental toxins like tobacco, dirty bar smells, cleaning products and bathroom odors with air purifiers.
k. Provide quick friendly service that will keep up with customer expectations and keep them coming back.
l. Hire a media consultant to start your pre opening spin. Include the internet.
m. Pay vendors on time.

Recently, I heard an interview on NPR Radio with Ruth Reichl, the former restaurant critic for the New York Times and now the Editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. The interviewer asked Ruth what makes a restaurant great. Everyone in the audience seemed to be waiting to hear “GREAT FOOD” her answer was a surprise: ‘the atmosphere and the socializing make a successful restaurant, not the food’. The food was more or less an added plus. This declaration really shocked the interviewer and I can imagine it shook up the foodies too.

Choosing a quality sound system

The audio system should sound as good as a new car’s sound system as a benchmark, because that’s what most people listen to on a daily basis. A listener can measure the quality difference based upon his or her car system, and most systems are pretty good these days.

When an audio contractor tells you that you need lots of speakers, he’s right. In a restaurant you need the sound to be balanced and evenly distributed to achieve an even db level. You don’t want loud or low db sound areas in your restaurant. You want localized zoned volume to control the volume level in each area of your restaurant. Sound contractors sell commercial audio products that can last a decade or more and they maintain your system, that’s why you always go with a professional.

I have also seen restaurants that neglect their audio system or try to save money on a Radio Shack do-it-yourself system or “I have a friend who’s into stereo systems” solution. These restaurants generally go out of business within the first year. It’s like a marker or a zip code that can tell how much a household’s income is for direct marketers.

The primary goal is to create a social setting where people interact. It’s not just the physical environment, it means using our five senses, and applying audio and visual design to stimulate them.

What’s needed to stimulate our five senses?

a. Painting and Graphic: Good colors that simulate and soothe and graphics that create interest with mood. Both can create a theme and or message for social bonding. (Sight)
b. Lighting: to create mood and atmosphere, which can put customers into a relaxed state. (Sight)
c. Music and Sound System: Music creates social bonding; it creates moods and atmospheric pace, it also helps remove negative ambient noises like dishes and silverware banging, chatter and air-conditioning motor sounds, etc. (Hearing)
d. Comfort: Good Chairs. (Touch)
e. Food & Drink (Smell/Taste)

On the basis of installed cost per square foot, electronics give you the greatest return on your capital costs while stimulating the right sensory experience to make a restaurant a hit. Also, it’s important to realize that sight and hearing are the ones that create the maximum social-environmental mood impact and support the remaining three senses.

Lighting. The lighting can help draw traffic into your restaurant as well as achieve interior moods. That’s why large windows or strategically placed windows can help to generate walk in traffic.

Odors. Odors or scents should be masked or eliminated because some scents can turn customers off. Even those great smelling Italian dishes can be someone’s poison. My suggestion is let your customers enjoy the wonderful aroma when the food arrives at their table. Consider adding an air purification system.

Telephones. Use only a commercial brand name system, dealer and service provider. Weigh the usefulness of voicemail. This feature can raise your cost by a third. Also consider adding a digital repeater system to promote your restaurant in combination with music on hold. Remember to keep the marketing of your restaurant a top priority.

POS Systems. Your POS system is extremely important; it’s the key to your restaurant’s daily financial picture. Do not skimp on your POS system to guarantee you have excellent field and programming services.

CCTV and Alarm. These two items can reduce your insurance cost 5-10% and can make you efficient, because with today’s CCTV hard drive recorder and Internet interface, you can watch your restaurant from anywhere in the world on a video cell phone or computer. What fun!

Wireless and hardwire data network. You want both. Install the Data cabling along with the telephone system to save costs.

Video. LCD or Plasma screens are the best. They keep lonely customers entertained, and keep sports, news and financial service patrons staying longer and drinking more.

Office electronics. Computers, Printer, Scanner, FAX, Copier and Server. A good copier can save money for advertising and menu printing. Have your architect plan your office layout, don’t wait until the last minute.

Steven Rosstad is the president of Steven Rosstad Audio + Video Consulting.

(800) 769-0731

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