Talk To MeAugust 6, 2010 By: Janice Cha Night Club and Bar Magazine
Wireless Headsets and Push-Button Systems Open Lines of Communication, Improving Service and Efficiency
When Hector Freixas, owner of the Cigar Bar in Pembroke Pines, Fla., decided to boost business by bringing in DJs, he suddenly found himself running a high-volume nightclub. For three nights a week, 200 people would flock to the 2,000-square-foot venue to enjoy music, wine and cigars. On those nights, communication among the manager, bouncer and runners in the crowded, noisy venue was accomplished — haphazardly — by flashlight signals.
After a brief stint with flashlight Morse code, Freixas brought in a radio headset system made by Motorola. “Even though there’s a lot of background noise, you can still hear and communicate,” says Freixas, who opted for the most compact units with a microphone clipped to the collar and earbuds. “I was skeptical at the beginning, but the headsets do a good job of blocking out almost everything but our voices.”
The Cigar Bar is just one of many bar and nightclub locations that rely on wireless technology to improve efficiency and increase sales. By freeing up staff to attend to guests’ needs rather than running back and forth to the bar or kitchen to check on orders or seek out other staffers to help with patron traffic flow, bars and nightclubs will increase guest satisfaction, thereby increasing guest checks.
“The units save you from walking from one side of the building to another to find someone,” notes Jim Livingston, vice president of sales for Addison, Texas-based Long Range Systems, a company which produces on-premise pagers, transmitters and radios. Another plus in having these systems: “They improve safety, too. If a fight should break out, your bouncers can instantly call for backup if needed. The faster the reaction, the better the security.”
Though wireless communication system suppliers tend to separate the products into two categories — those used by staff and those used by customers — the crucial products for the nightclub and bar industry are those used by front-of-house staff: radios and paging systems.
There are three broad types of two-way radios on the market: the “family channel” units sold at retail stores, with limited frequencies and channels; the “business band” radio, with up to 56 frequencies, each with about 120 privacy codes; and the “big box” radio, the powerful units used to communicate over miles.
Bars and nightclubs should be using the business band radio systems, but often they are not, most likely due to cost considerations.
“I’ll bet that about 75 percent of the people I meet at trade shows have used or are still using family channel units, which, by the way, are not legal for commercial use,” Livingston says. “They might work, but not very well — the operators will run into problems with range, privacy or durability.”
Conventional radios operate on a fixed radio frequency, or RF channel, while those with multiple channels operate on the channel selected by a user. With multi-channel systems, you can reserve channels for separate purposes, such as kitchen to servers, bouncers to manager or bartender to kitchen.
Bars and nightclubs usually use an ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio, which has a shorter wavelength that makes it easier for the signal to transmit through the inside of buildings. VHF’s (very high frequency) longer wavelength, by contrast, transmits the signal across greater distances. Power-wise, business-band radios are sold in 1-watt to 5-watt models. Generally a 1-watt radio should provide enough power to suit most environments, but for the truly large venue, a 2-watt radio might be needed.
Relatively new to the bar/nightclub market is a one-way push-button transmitter system. This wireless device sits behind the bar, at hostess stations or anywhere a “call” button would be handy, allowing bartenders or servers the ability to signal for assistance at any time.
Such a system has shaved minutes off average speed-of-service times at the 99-seat Sportszone84 Bar & Grill, part of the Rodeway Inn & Suites hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“Before we had the unit, our servers and barbacks would lose floor time by checking on food or drink orders,” says Izzy Fintz, vice president of hospitality for the hotel’s management company, Triangle Hospitality Group. “Now they can stay on the floor, attending to guest needs until they’re paged. The units also help us keep in touch with the manager, who might be anywhere in the restaurant or hotel.”
The units, offered by several manufacturers, feature single- or multiple-button transmitters that send precoded messages. “Our bartender can push a button to call for ice, glassware, the manager. He knows that someone will get the message and act on it,” Fintz adds.
The only challenge so far is keeping track of the beepers. “Employees tend to take them home after their shifts and forget them,” Fintz says. “We’ve numbered the beepers and tally them every night.”
Like any product you’re looking to purchase, you need to do your homework when choosing a wireless communication system for your bar. We asked the pros for some tips on how to choose the best system for your operation.
• “Consider both the quality of the speaker in the earpiece and the noise-canceling ability of the microphone as you make your choice,” says Michael Lopez, director of business development for Klein Electronics, the Escondido, Calif.-based creator of two-way radios and wireless phone headsets. “Overlooking this can drastically reduce the performance of a good radio system.”
• At the same time, headsets endure more wear and tear than radios and tend to be the “weak link” of the system. “Bars should almost consider them as disposable items,” says Russ Ford, vice president of sales for Suwanee, Ga.-based HME Wireless, a provider of onsite messaging solutions. To get maximum durability, be sure to opt for models with a two-prong connector vs. one-prong.
• Sound quality in your wireless system is critical, so put the unit to the test before you invest. “Stand in front of a boombox, turn the speaker to its loudest setting, put on the headset, then see how well you can communicate via the two-way radio with someone in another room,” Livingston recommends.
• Warranties and service offered by reputable suppliers will save you money over the long run. “Make sure you understand the line of support and the process for getting support,” Ford says. Look for a one-year warranty on radios and headsets.
Finally, consider the environment in which you’ll be using the system. “If you go solely for low prices, ‘compact’ looks and quick decisions, your team could be left unprepared at a time when communication is critical at your club,” Lopez says. NCB
Scoping Out the Systems
Four suppliers of wireless communications systems introduce their top picks for bar and nightclub operators.
HME Wireless: The widely used Motorola CLS Radios (pictured) come in one- and four-channel versions with a variety of headset configurations. hmewireless.com
Klein Electronics: BlackBox+ is a palm-sized, water-resistent two-way radio built for high-noise environments. Features include UHF/VHF, 16 channels with scan and high-volume accessory jack. BlackBoxradios.com
Long Range Systems: Beach Butler is a push-button one-way call system that busy bartenders can use to alert managers, wait staff or others to their needs (i.e. ice, glassware, security). The five-button units can be pre-programmed as needed. pager.net
Quail Digital: The QD Retail is a 12-user, voice-activated or push-to-talk system that lets staff members stay in touch at all times. Noise-canceling technology makes it useful in moderately noisy bar or restaurant settings. quaildigital.com