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    How technology is changing the face and soul of hospitality

    Prue Miller

    Atmosphere, ambience, character, charm -  all are qualities that each and every restaurant, bar, hotel lobby and yes, even coffee shop seek to create. The certain something that reaches their clientele, encourages them to stay a little bit longer, and open their wallets a little wider.

    “Each hospitality business has its own unique building and interior design that sets the right mood for patrons and communicates the overall brand,” explains Steve Hughes, manager for Mood Media Australia.

    “Whether we aware of it or not each of our five sense are engaged when we walk into a venue, none more so than in the world of hospitality. Businesses are more aware of this than ever and are increasingly proactive in all of these areas.”

    There has been a noticeable increase in the use of digital screens appearing across the hospitality terrain. Giant glowing, LED and often 4K panels, (with controllable and programmable luminance) offering what is called atmospheric content - solutions and suggestions for the flesh and blood customer.

    Relax, socialise, imbibe, be welcome – and oh yes, the weather forecast is poor and the airport is experiencing hours of delay. The combination of up-to-the minute information, while having your digital brow de-furrowed is a service that does serve a purpose. It’s positive branding, hosted from a local network, or of course distilled from the omnipresent cloud.

    A more subtle visual cue is offered by lighting. Far more than utilitarian, lighting design offers an extra dimension to the dining experience. Award winning designer Jan Flook, a graduate of the Florence Design Academy in Italy, is the man behind (or indeed under) the breathtaking Jackelope Hotel Chandelier continues to illuminate the industry on installation lighting.

    Flook is a luminaire designer. A lighting designer (Jan explains) takes a fixture and positions it just so. Jan designs the piece, constructs it and installs it much like an art installation.

    “It is highly collaborative,” says Flook who sympathises with the general dislike for LED lighting but speaks optimistically of the improvements, explaining that the new colour temperatures around the 2800k mark offer a flattering apricot kind of light.

    “It is soft on faces,” he adds. Soft it maybe is but the hardware behind it is highly technical and is more often than not controlled sectionally by remote or hard wired systems such as Dali’s Rapid system.

    Flook’s work in Melbourne, on the evocative Longsong Restaurant is a key component in the atmosphere aesthetic. A customer drawcard, the concept came to him almost immediately.

    While both evoking the beautiful tradition of letting lose paper lanterns into the heavens, here the many translucent fixtures produce that warm soft light, while also filling the architectural void with a heart-warming and beautiful sculpture in light.

    “Lighting adds a dimension to experience, it is hugely important,” says Flook, who’s current range of projects promises amazing revelations later this year.

    So, the eyes are sorted – but what of the ears? There is perhaps a no more contentious issue in restaurant management and design than noise. In a recent survey by Zagat, a national restaurant review and ratings service in America, noise came in as the second greatest irritant, apparently even more annoying than bad food and high prices. There’s even an app launched, again in the states, called iHearu where patrons rate the ability to hear conversations in restaurants. It seems not everyone enjoys din with their dinner.

    Actual sound baffling pads, whether underneath tables and chairs, on the ceiling, or present in the cosiness of upholstered banquettes are just some ways designers are meeting the challenge. But, not all noise is bad.

    Delivering venue appropriate music has become more efficient.

    Enter hospitality venue, individually curated sounds.

    “Businesses are wanting full control over their music programs, including the ability to customise them at any time,” says Ray Medhurst, head of Playlist Curation and brand music consultant for Mood Media.

    “Every hour in hospitality is different to the next. For example, some times of the day are more upbeat or energised, and other times you want to encourage longer or more formal atmospheric dining experiences.”

    The system is used across many large hospitality organisations, including the Hilton Hotel in Sydney where the music is controlled by managers within the hotel, who can pick from hundreds of carefully curated playlists for all its venues - the Glass Brasserie, The Marble Bar and Zeta Bar.

    The control is achieved wirelessly and according to Michael Knott, Food and Beverage manager at the hotel “It is easy to use and we have complete control.”

    However the heart of any restaurant lies at its stomach – the kitchen itself, now boldly on display in most restaurants is also a source of automation and innovation.

    Executive chef Paul Rivkin has been a member of the Australian Culinary Federation since 1991 and has helped design countless commercial kitchens – and then worked rather brilliantly in them.

    Generally the smallest space in any restaurant, in kitchen layout every centimetre counts.

    “Every half footstep adds time,” says Rivkin. Who has seen many changes take place in the hottest room in the house.

    “Solid fuel cooking, such as on a Parilla top sort of thing, using wood or charcoal has demanded some changes in kitchen design,” says Rivkin. Advances in exhaust systems including water vapour exhaust hoods (which also aid in fire control), to air conditioning systems that don’t cool food on the pass, while still being strong enough to vent smoke away from grills and the dining room.

    On the cooler side, fridges and freezers can now be remotely monitored. A change in temperature can be addressed in minutes, sending an alert to Rivkin’s mobile phone, and reports and records generated and stored electronically for review the next day.

    Dishwashers, notoriously expensive in labour, water and chemical costs are also updating.

    “Pellatised washers,” says Rivkin, adding that, “you don’t need staff to rinse the pots. The machine blasts pellets at the debris, then washes them.”

    Machines such as those created by Granuldisk fire 80,000 granules at pots and pans every second, and suggest they offer water savings of up to 90 percent. Lower staff costs, quicker turn around – and the machine will export a wash log data.

    The sustainability continues into waste systems. One such machine, branded Orca can devour one ton of food waste in a day, and within 24 hours bio chips and micro-organisms convert the material to environmentally safe water. This sort of ‘green cred’ counts in social media profiles.

    And it is the social profile, which includes notes from customers on everything from sustainability to prices that effects hospitality owners 24/7.

    Celebrity chef Danny Russolini of Russolini Consulting has many years of experience in diverse venues, all over the world, with credits in such foodie bibles as Conde Nast Traveller, and the New York Times.

    His consultancy has helped create dining experiences from fine dining to some of them the best pub fare you could ever hope for. Involved in every aspect of hospitality, including kitchen and menu design, and even staff training his services are highly sort after across the dining board, including what one might call, feeding the masses.

    “Like any innovation, tech has its good or bad points, if a tweet or post tells thousands of people about my new dish, then great. But a picture will never convey the whole experience,” says Russolini.

    “And self-ordering on digital devices will never replace a sexy accent or a full description of a dish. A tablet can only tell you so much and won’t open the door for you on the way out,” he says.

    So maybe offering free Wi-Fi, to customers is a good thing. And once those customers log in beacon technology could open up those very devices to send messages to its patrons. It may be something experienced frequently by shoppers in Westfield, but it’s a new idea for restaurants.

    According to Mood Media, this can work in conjunction with the in-house sound system, and sends an inaudible ‘cue’ that is detected by the customer’s smart phone. A special cocktail on offer? A room discount? Perhaps in the not too distant future the menu and, as sure as night follows day, the bill will one day light up your iPhone screen.

    Yes, iBill is coming our way.

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