Hospitality: Audio Architecture

Hospitality: Audio Architecture
  • The food court at La Plaza Mall in McAllen, TX provides a banquet of culinary options, but day-tripping shoppers streaming north over the Mexican border and locals alike often prefer to eat just across the street at the
  • McDonald's, a servicio rapido favorite that has become a landmark of sorts on the Southern Texas landscape.

"Sometimes it seems that everyone in the region on both sides of the border knows about this McDonald's," says
Jeff Weller, director of operations at R.E.E. Inc., a company managing upward of 70 McDonald's franchise locations along the Texas Gulf Coast. "It's singular and unique in a number of ways."

First opened in 1988, the restaurant's towering arches out front beckon customers toward the two-story structure, where seating for 188 is more than double the normal franchise capacity of 70. Seating is an important issue here, Weller explains, as an overwhelming majority of the Mexican nationals who visit have a cultural preference for sitting down to eat, eschewing the American practice of eating on the run or dashing through the drive-through.

Joining patrons from south of the border, retirees gather in the late morning to sip coffee and debate the day's headlines at the restaurant, the work crowd streams in for lunch, students grab a bite after school, and, following the dinner hour, the restaurant gears up for late-nighters stopping by after an evening out.

"It's no secret that a lot of McDonald's are remodeling and trying to update their image, and we're no exception," he says, citing the motivating forces driving the McAllen rehab project. "There's a comfort zone here that draws our customers in and keeps them coming back. I felt that AV could play a larger role in creating that space."

To bring reality to his AV vision, Weller called upon David Argabright of Harlingen, TXbased ProSound, Inc. With Muzak being one of ProSound's primary lines, Argabright began his task in earnest by setting out to write a new soundtrack for the business.

"Jeff really believes in the power of music, and to that end he asked me at the outset of the project to infuse the entire restaurant with a level of premium quality audio," Argabright recalls. "Music was going to create the experience he was looking for, and it had to be presented in a fashion that could accommodate the different tastes and expectations of all the customers, 24/7."

Within the framework of audio architecture Argabright was building, "dayparting" technology proved to be a useful tool. An automatic program sequencing feature found within the Muzak addressable receiver selected for the build, dayparting allows musical program material to automatically shift according to the tastes of listeners inside the restaurant at any given hour. Lighter fare was chosen for the older, mature morning crowd, with tempos shifting upward toward the evening hours, and changes made anywhere along the way according to cultural tastes as needed.

Next, Argabright turned his attention to the issue of sonic quality. "In order for me to meet my client's goals, I felt that the sound system had to have some frequency response," he says. "We wanted full-range sound in the main dining area that would allow patrons to hear lower frequencies clearly and intelligibly while simultaneously reproducing the highs you find in all music. In my humble opinion, what really counts is bass. Low-end performance goes a long way in illustrating the differences between a cheap system and one that sounds good."

With great effort being expended to give the McDonald's interior a sleek, contemporary look, Argabright was handed a mandate to conceal the presence of his audio hardware as invisibly as possible. Choosing to distribute the system across the restaurant's ceiling in the main dining area and an adjacent room using 15 wide-bandwidth, high-fidelity model AD-C152T loudspeakers from QSC's AcousticDesign Series, he satisfied his need for bass with four AD-C81Tw ceiling mounted subwoofers also from the QSC AcousticDesign catalog.

At the bottom-end, the ceiling-mounted AD-C81Tw subs extend low frequency performance down to a usable 28 Hz with the aid of an 8-inch polypropylene cone woofer. Rated for 100 watts continuous power handling and able to withstand 400-watt peaks, the subs were placed within a boundary- loaded scheme developed by Argabright that enhanced low frequency response even further.

"Boundary loading relies upon installing the subwoofers in the corners of the room," Argabright relates. "The converging planes of the ceiling and walls then act to increase low-end performance by pushing more of the low frequency energy into the room." [ See sidebar, "Boundary Effects."]

Beyond the main dining area-referred to as "the lobby" in McDonald's parlance-Argabright's audio blueprint
extended into a children's play area, the previously mentioned room adjacent to the main dining area (which is
used for everything from employee training to private parties), and even outdoors. Performing collectively within
a single zone configuration across all of these areas of coverage, the system uses a pair of QSC's surface-mount
AcousticDesign AD-S52T loudspeakers for sound reinforcement within the children's area and four additional
surface- mount loudspeakers (AcousticDesign model AD-S32T) outdoors at the entrance to the restaurant.

Complementing the audio segment of the AV system, display elements spread throughout the restaurant include a pair of 52-inch Sharp Aquos LCD screens in the lobby, a pair of 47-inch model 1080p LCD screens from LG in the children's area, and a single 42-inch LG model 720p LCD screen in the smaller area adjacent to the lobby.
Distribution for the screens is all via Cat-5 cabling; an Intelix splitter distributes video program material
arriving on-site from four Dish network receivers.

The entire AV systems integration project was completed in November of 2007. Since that time, both the audio and video improvements have been received very well. With David Argabright proudly noting that the system sounds better than any other quick service restaurant he can think of, Jeff Weller reports that he plans on introducing similar designs to other McDonald's within the R.E.E. franchise realm as renovations spread to other locations.


Gregory A. DeTogne is a freelance writer who lives and works in Libertyville, IL. He can be reached

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