The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown fastball after fastball at businesses, but perhaps no sector has been dealt a tougher hand than the hospitality industry. Mask mandates, social distancing requirements, occupancy limits, rolling forced closures, and even statewide travel restrictions have all affected people’s ability and willingness to dine out.
Through it all, U.S. business owners have strived to abide by local guidance while providing moments of “normalcy” that customers are surely looking for, and it’s become clear that investing in outdoor AV is a crucial tactic for hospitality providers to survive the next 12 months. That’s where the integration community comes into play.
Taking the Indoor Experience Outdoors
The first and most obvious solution for hospitality businesses was to move tables outdoors wherever possible. Establishments placed tables on patios, sidewalks, and in parking lots; invested in umbrellas and standing propane heaters; and some even tested futuristic-looking plastic “bubbles” that envelop a single table to offer a degree of privacy and protection from weather. But what about video and music?
While it’s easy enough to serve food and drinks outside, the permanently-installed displays and speakers inside a building become essentially useless when everyone has to stay outside. At that point, it’s clear that owners are losing out on some of the benefits of their technology investment, but they still may not consider adding AV outside, or even be aware that it’s possible to create comfortable, high-quality digital entertainment spaces outdoors.
With the right technologies, any commercial outdoor space can be digitally transformed to offer the modern bar and dining experiences customers expect. From weatherproof 4K displays and speakers to wheeled mobile displays and tabletop audio selectors, commercial integrators have the knowledge and tools required to help these businesses attract customers. For installation firms, now is the time to reach out to existing hospitality clients to ask how their business is doing and what tactics they are using to attract customers and encourage spending.
Recommending the Right Tech
No business owner wants to make an unnecessary investment, especially in a turbulent year, so it’s important for integrators to approach the conversation carefully and listen to the business’ needs and expectations before making grand recommendations about luxurious high-tech patios. Depending on the location and the audience, having one display with speakers on a mobile cart could be the ideal solution. For a sports bar, it may be appropriate to hang multiple weatherproof displays, or a single video wall display that could be windowed to present multiple live feeds.
Live TV—particularly when it comes to major events like the World Series—is huge for sports bars and many restaurants, but audio is even more important and more widespread. Whether your client is a sit-down Italian restaurant, a quick-serve pizza joint, or a beverage-only bar, music is nearly a must-have.
Adding music to outdoor spaces may be as easy as adding new speaker pairs to existing distribution networks from inside, or it could involve adding new zones to a multizone system. Knowing that cost is going to be an even bigger factor right now, integrators should be prepared with multiple options at various price points to show hospitality business owners that they are here to help, and not just to land a job.
Keeping Everyone Connected
The last piece of tech typically required for premium outdoor experiences is a rock-solid wireless data network to support mobile point of sale (POS) systems, enable Media over IP (MoIP) music and video distribution, and provide a fast, reliable connection for guests’ mobile devices. For integrators more familiar with indoor wireless networks, it may help to research the latest outdoor-specific wireless access points and extenders—and gather an accurate estimate of how much bandwidth is required and how many simultaneous users may be active.
With displays, audio, and networking all on the table, there are also more advanced solutions, such as tabletop speakers that allow each party to choose their table’s audio source from among multiple options.
Whether the client uses a full control and media distribution system or just has one display thrown up on the wall, there are affordable, immediate solutions to bring their traditional indoor experience to outdoor seating areas.
As long as the economic prospects of in-person businesses remain uncertain, we must do everything we can to help struggling owners fill their seats and sell their wares so they are still around to help support our businesses when we regain some semblance of normal economic operations. When we think about how deeply the custom integration field is intertwined with the industries it serves, there’s one oft-repeated phrase that really seems to say it best: we are all in this together.
Scott Normand is a senior director at SnapAV. Based in Charlotte, NC, SnapAV is a manufacturer and exclusive source of AV, surveillance, control, networking, and remote management products for professional integrators.