Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: A feast for the eyes

For being about as big as a breadbox, the LCD video projector at Scalo Northern Italian Grill sure holds a lot.

Two RGB D-Sub 15-pin inputs? Check. A 2,100-lumens contrast ratio? Yep. High Definition TV capability? Mm-hmm. Laptop readiness? Sure.

And a 233 percent jump in private party business for Scalo in Nob Hill?

It could be so, says Scalo’s owner, Steve Paternoster, and he’s not alone in thinking technology can help boost business.

More and more restaurants in the Albuquerque area are investing in audio-visual technology as a way to attract companies and sales professionals looking for a place to hold meetings.

Restaurant owners say it’s a growing business, and with the dropping cost of gadgets, serving those on the lookout for a meeting spot has become a more viable way than ever to help pump up the bottom line.

Hungry for A-V

Scalo’s recent addition of permanent audio-visual equipment was inspired by a meeting with pharmaceutical sales representatives, Paternoster says.

The sales reps were frustrated with limited access to LCD projectors and display screens, he says. When they did get the equipment, it proved inconvenient to carry around.

The opportunity was clear for Paternoster: Provide the reps with projectors and screens that could display their digital slide shows, videos and spreadsheets, and more of them would book space at the restaurant.

To boot, he added a wireless Internet connection throughout the restaurant, which meant reps could download their presentations from inside the building, further magnifying the convenience factor.

“It takes away some of the negatives,” he says. “For them (sales reps), it means not lugging around anything bigger than a laptop, not having to lug around a screen.”

With Scalo’s renovated rooms, Paternoster estimates the restaurant’s party and meeting business could grow to 20 percent of total revenues, up from the roughly 6 percent it is today.

“It was a niche that needed developing in the restaurant world,” he says.

It’s an attitude evidently shared by Nick Kapnison, co-owner of Yanni’s and Opa Bar at 3109 Central Ave. N.E., just down the street from Scalo.

In the next year and a half, the Nob Hill Greek restaurant plans to expand into vacant buildings down the block, Kapnison says.

On the drawing table are two rooms, each fully loaded with audio-visual equipment, that will be able to seat 75 to 100 people.

“Having audio-visual equipment will certainly give us another group of people to expand to,” Kapnison says. “There’s a great demand for those kinds of rooms.”

He expects four to six meetings a week that will use the audio-visual equipment. The main customers? People from the pharmaceutical industry, the University of New Mexico, nearby hospitals and Sandia National Laboratories.

“There’s a tremendous number of people out there that look for these kinds of places,” he says.

Over at Seasons Rotisserie and Grill in Old Town, a growing meeting business compelled the restaurant to build a private room for parties in 2002, says Ian Hatch, events coordinator and assistant manager at Seasons.

Since about three out of the four parties booked in a typical week request audio-visual equipment, it made sense to build it into the room, Hatch says.

“You see less and less of the actual audio-visual company coming around and trying to set up for you,” he says.

But that’s not just because restaurants are buying projectors and screens. It’s because some of Seasons’ room-renting customers are buying them, too, Hatch says.

Case in point: the New Mexico Heart Institute Journal Club, a group of health care professionals in the cardiology field who sometimes meet at Seasons to discuss issues in their field.

As physician services coordinator with the institute, Rhonda Griego helps organize its monthly journal club meetings.

She likes a venue to have big, secluded rooms and, yes, audio-visual equipment. But if it’s not there, no big deal: The club has its own.

“It’s a definite plus, but it’s not the only reason,” she says. “It’s a definite convenience. They have the projector. They have the screen. The only thing we have to take down is the laptop.”

How low can you go?

Though customer demand remains a strong motivation for restaurants’ purchase of audio-visual equipment, another key is the technology’s drop in cost.

Take the price tag for the projector installed in Scalo: Just two years ago, it sold for $3,000 to $4,000, says Chris Pasek, account executive with Professional Business Systems, the company that handled the installation for Scalo.

Today, Pasek says, the projector goes for around $1,800.

“The high cost was what was driving the rental business,” he says. “Now they (restaurants) see the prices. . . . You run the numbers.”

Though rentals had remained steady, he estimated sales of audio-visual equipment to restaurants had grown by 30 percent.

“It’s just another niche market for us,” he says. “We’re just starting to see more and more.”

But for some restaurants, the price of audio-visual equipment can never drop far enough.

“We thought it would be easier for us to just have our own A-V equipment,” says Juliette Jaramillo-Paulk, party coordinator and office manager with the Melting Pot restaurant near Old Town. “It turns out only certain people know what plugs go to what.”

It took a couple of months after buying the equipment in the fall of 2004 to recognize that it was a “pain in the butt to set up,” she says.

“We haven’t used ours since Christmas,” she adds. “It’s easier if the (audio-visual) company does it.”

That’s exactly Tony McKenzie’s point.

McKenzie, the owner of Action Audiovisual, says restaurants’ purchase of audio-visual equipment “doesn’t fly.”

“It’s not really feasible for restaurants to purchase equipment because they can’t keep up on it,” says McKenzie, whose business sells, rents, maintains and installs audio-visual equipment. “I think it’s great that they’re trying to do it. It’s just . . . we see hotels trying to do this, and it’s not feasible. They can’t maintenance their equipment.”

But he says with the high cost of leasing equipment at some audio-visual shops, he understands why restaurants buy rather than rent.

His shop has a $150 projector rental package, which he says is about half or less of what is typically charged by other companies for the same.

Even with restaurants buying instead of renting, he remains unworried about the impact on his business.

“I don’t think it really affects audio-visual companies because it’s short-lived,” he says. “A-V companies aren’t going away. There’s always business here for someone to pick up.”

***

SIDEBAR: Bigger bite for small businesses?

Presentation technology might be tempting for business-meeting diners, but the National Restaurant Association is pushing another way to bring them to the table: tax deductions.

The association supports federal legislation that would make business meals up to 80 percent tax-deductible by 2008.

Once upon a time, business meals were 100 percent tax-deductible. But in 1986, Congress reduced deductibility to 80 percent. In 1993, Congress cut it to 50 percent.

“Obviously, it’s a benefit that would greatly benefit small businesses,” says Brad Dayspring, spokesman with the National Restaurant Association. “Especially now with this trend of using restaurants as a conference room.”

Business-meal sales would increase by almost $6 billion and boost the U.S. economy by $19 billion if the deduction were raised to 80 percent, according to the National Restaurant Association. At 100 percent deductibility, the association says business-meal spending would rise by $11 billion and bring a $23 million boost to the economy.

Even without the increased deductibility, Dayspring says more and more businesses are turning to restaurants as a venue to hold their meetings.

“These businesses are going to a more comfortable atmosphere that restaurants are providing,” he says. “An increase in business meals is something we expect.”

FACTBOX: DIGITAL DINING

If you’re looking to show off your next PowerPoint presentation while dining out, many Albuquerque restaurants will accommodate your every gastronomical and digital need. Here’s a few with private rooms and audio-visual equipment:

Le Cafe Miche
1431 Wyoming Blvd. N.E.
299-6088

Scalo Northern Italian Grill
3500 Central Ave. S.E.
255-8781

Seasons Rotisserie and Grill
2031 Mountain Road N.W.
766-5100Article in The Albuquerque Tribune:

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