To TV or Not to TV? The Restaurateur’s Question

For the past ten years, I’ve noticed something in nearly every restaurant I’ve gone to, no matter where the restaurant is, the cost of the entrees, or the type of cuisine. Sadly, this thing I’ve noticed isn’t related to consistently great service (though I wish it was), and it doesn’t provide me with the fun and memorable experience that I can get from an iPad wine menu (hint, hint). The thing I’ve noticed is televisions.

In the past decade I have witnessed televisions that have ruined romantic, candle-lit dinners, but I have also seen televisions that have created stunning moments of togetherness in bars and breweries. Restaurateurs and bar owners, it’s time to consider the impact your televisions are having… and it’s time to think about whether you really need them.

Are TVs in bars and lounges necessary?

There are some bars or restaurant lounges where TVs make a lot of sense. If you run a sports bar and you don’t have at least three very large TVs, you are doing something very, very wrong. One sports bar that I was recently in, the Village Inn in Skokie, Illinois, has a lot of televisions. I haven’t counted them, but I’d be willing to guess that they have 37 televisions scattered across their restaurant. Most of those televisions are in the bar and it can get a bit overwhelming. A glowing screen is right in front of you everywhere you look in the Village Inn, and the really impressive thing is that almost all of them are tuned to a different channel. Even though all those different stations can take a little bit of time to get used to, I actually appreciate the channel variety. At the counter with my friends, one of us can watch Nascar, another can watch the NBA game, and another can watch the Food Network.

Even though this system works for the Village Inn, most bars and lounges don’t actually need televisions, and many of them are probably sacrificing their overall ambiance to the assumption that their customers require something to watch. If your bar or the lounge area of your restaurant is meant to be a place for your customers to sit back, relax, talk about their day, and catch up, you should really reconsider your choice to put a TV in your establishment. TVs stop meaningful conversation (much like obsessive smart phone use) and if your intentions are to bring people together, your TV is standing in the way of your goals. This especially applies to restaurants and bars with a lot of live music performances.

Are TVs in bars and restaurants hurting turnover rates?

TVs have now also breached the dining room borders, and they can be spotted in semi-inconspicuous corners of all types of restaurants. In my travels, I’ve seen TVs lurking in the corners of upscale steakhouses, romantic Italian bistros, Vietnamese take-out joints, and brewery patios.

The bad news is that when you distract your customers with a television, they will:

  • Pay less attention to their meals. This means they’ll also be less likely to remember and recommend your food to their friends.
  • Forget the name of your restaurant. After all, you are inviting your competitors’ advertisements into your restaurant. How can you expect your customers to remember your brand?
  • Kill your turnover rate. Not only because they’ll take longer to order, but also because they’ll take longer to eat, longer to order dessert, and longer to leave.
  • Forget to tip. Yup, they will. The human brain can only focus on so many things at once, and remembering to tip your staff probably wasn’t too important to your guests in the first place.

The real question: Should you have a TV in your restaurant?

It is easy to determine whether or not your restaurant or bar needs a TV: consider it in terms of your ROI. If your guests have clearly made the choice to visit your restaurant in order to see your television, you need it. In fact, if you determine that your guests come to your restaurant because of your TV, make sure to set up a channel-heavy area like the Village Inn does.

If your guests come to your restaurant for something besides your TV, please start reconsidering your cable bill. One thing that we’ve forgotten in this modern world is that TVs are not only expensive to buy, they’re also expensive to supply with service. If your TVs don’t add significant value to your guests’ experience, you should start thinking about what else you could be spending your budget on instead.

Overall, are televisions a good thing or a bad thing?

Restaurants have many different reasons for having televisions that their guests can enjoy, but savvy business owners will carefully consider their decision to add a television to a restaurant or bar space. If your guests base your restaurant’s value on your TVs, you should not only keep the TVs you have, you should add more. However, if you and your guests would rather focus on your cuisine, you’ll want to save the cost that a television entails and upgrade something else that your guests actually require.

Photo licensed by Paul Townsend