Why Audio-Visual Solutions Matter for Bars/Restaurants

Adopting audio and visual accents for your bar’s or restaurant’s lighting, music, and televisions can help build a brand and tell a story.

Take Four Walls, which opened in early June at The Joseph, a Luxury Collection Hotel in downtown Nashville, where spaghetti westerns air on the bar’s television.

Apart from these Western films—which were produced and directed by Italians during the 1960s—being a fun, off-beat entertainment option, this is actually intentional and closely tied to the hotel’s branding. The owners’ Italian heritage—woven throughout the food-and-beverage establishments, including at Yolan where a huge wheel of Italian cheese is on display while espresso is brewed all day long—is married with an homage to Nashville’s country-music roots.

four walls
Four Walls shows spaghetti westerns on the bar’s television. (Photo credit: Jordan Powers)

Audio and visual solutions can definitely enhance an establishment, but if the quality is poor, these amenities can wreck your image and turn off customers. It won’t matter how delicious the food is or how inventive the cocktail program—all patrons will remember are the terrible sounds, lighting, and visuals (both in genre and technology) accompanying their time there.

Maybe it’s a quiet afternoon and rock music is blaring so loud a table can’t hear each other talk. Or the televisions are airing football games that no one is watching—and on the highest volume possible. Maybe patrons have to whip out their smartphones to read the menu because the lighting is so dim, or it's so bright that they become fatigued. The same goes for live music. Is the volume enough to highlight the band’s talent but not so loud it disturbs every corner of the bar or restaurant in a multi-room establishment? These are the sorts of questions any owner or operator of a hospitality-minded establishment should be asking.

Music Matters

“A lot of people love live music—and a lot of places [host live music]—but the problem is they don’t do it well,” says Izzy Kharasch, a Chicago-area consultant and president of Hospitality Works. With the bar or restaurant as his client, he brings in local audio-visual companies to help execute their vision. His aim is to suggest high-quality options and also think about placement within an establishment in order to maximize their effect.

“Music, like lights, should be set differently all day long,” says Kharasch. “Music plays a very big part in the failure or success of your restaurant. If it’s done well, music will keep people relaxed, dining a little bit slowly, and spending more money.”

Once you’ve activated an audio or visual amenity, such as live music, keep the event consistently on the calendar and market it well, advises Kharasch. After all, what good is a killer concept if no one shows up—or they are confused about the date and time it’s happening? And if you’ve already made the investment in sound technology, showing it off is not a bad idea.

live music in a bar
(Photo: 7Crafts, iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Screen Setups

At a recent installation for a 4,000-square-foot bar in New Jersey, Kharasch configured a block of television monitors to act like “puzzle pieces.” These can now either air independently—such as a different sporting event on each television—or be tuned into the same channel, but with a twist. Now the televisions act as a piece of the screen, blowing up the image for viewers even more.

Todd Beiler, founder of CENSEO AV+Acoustics, provides audio technology to clients that include resorts, homes, educational facilities, and healthcare institutions. For a recent client in Hawaii, a video wall was created to air footage of a surfing event happening elsewhere on property. With this video wall, no matter where a guest was seated, they had a front-row seat to the action that attracted people there on that day.

“It’s for that destination kind of place,” says Beiler. This could also apply to a sports bar that wants to increase the viewing size of a football game, soccer match, or tennis tournament that might normally air on a large-format television. Particularly for popular events in a region or even internationally, this positions a bar or restaurant to be top of mind for fans of that event.

Cost-Saving Solutions

What’s also new in the world of audio and visual technology is the higher level of customization. For instance, a system can automatically adjust the volume when there’s enough ambient sound already in the room. “That means you don’t have to have a restaurant employee monitoring that,” says Beiler.

While there are many DIY options using personal devices—or even digital jukeboxes, which are becoming more popular due to their advanced sound quality and vast array of options—often it’s best to call in the pros.

But if you do want to play around with your own sound or video system, it’s still possible and may even be a way to stall a big-ticket installation later on. This is particularly important when launching a new venue and keeping an eye on operating costs.

Wireless speakers are a sound investment. “That’s a great DIY system. Maybe that’s the starter kit and you can upgrade later,” says Beiler. “There are even consumer-level products out there now that are making it easier [to run your own video and sound].” He recommends Sonos wireless speakers that can operate through an iPhone, via multiple rooms at once. As a bonus, they do not take up a lot of space, leaving more room for tables in bars and restaurants—as opposed to reducing them to accommodate large, bulky speakers.

Beiler says just like with interior design, composition and size matter with speakers. “Find the right speaker for the right location and application,” he says, stressing that this also means examining the room size.

You wouldn’t want to jam a bunch of huge speakers into an intimate café—or aim low for sound quality with a couple of small speakers in a big room. Think about the impact you want to have in terms of entertainment, and the level of sound you want to provide. This is a subtle way to tie your branding back to your bar, just as those spaghetti westerns do in Nashville.


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