Florida International University Restaurant Lab

Mission: An Edge in the Job Market

The Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University gives students hands-on experience in restaurant management as they prepare for careers in the hospitality industry.

FIU looked to expand the Chaplin school with a restaurant management lab, one that would include a restaurant, kitchen and bar as its primary spaces. Key leaders and facilitators focused on providing its students with the collaborative technology that would give them an edge in the job market.

“Technology is important to us in all that we do,” says Mike Hampton, dean of the Chaplin school. “If we’re going to have a world-class hospitality program, we have to have world-class facilities.”

“If we’re going to have a world-class hospitality program, we have to have world-class facilities.” – Mike Hampton, dean, Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management

Before construction on the lab began, AVI-SPL was collaborating with FIU, the architect and other trades in dozens of meetings about the project. AVI-SPL shared demos and photos of its past work to help guide FIU decision-makers toward the solutions that would be right for the school.

Action: Discreet AV in a Noisy, Messy Environment

Those solutions include 18 Panasonic pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras that allow guests and instructors to watch students prepare meals. The cameras can be controlled from a web browser or from Crestron touch panels, and up to four feeds can be shown on a single screen, such as the 90-inch Sharp display in the bar/restaurant area. Because the lab’s kitchen is a harsh environment of fumes and heat, the team secured the cameras in ventilated domes and placed them in areas where they wouldn’t be damaged.

Similarly, the noise from the fans in the stove hoods influenced selection of the wireless microphones and comparable DSP audio mixers with built-in noise-canceling features.

To provide wireless mic coverage at each of the dining tables, we worked with SACOM, which designed connections for the 16 rechargeable boundary microphones that are part of the Polycom video conferencing system. Our team provided audio for the dining space’s high ceilings (30 feet) while avoiding resonance issues.

The reception area of the restaurant has a docking station for an iPod, Blu-ray player, and laptop plugins. A number of displays operate most of the day, and are fed by DirectTV, orders being placed, point-of-sale transactions, kitchen video feeds, and digital signage. Crestron Digital Media Players send content — like upcoming event promotion — to the displays.

Impact: Present, Annotate, Collaborate

A ribbon-cutting ceremony in the fall of 2013 unveiled the fulfillment of FIU’s vision: a space where video and audio technology helps teachers keep track of student performance, brings remote locations together for distance learning, and gives students an advantage over their counterparts at other schools.

“Looking back on the project, I can say this is one of the best digital media deployments I’ve been involved with,” says AVI-SPL Sales Engineer Zoran Visnjic.

In the kitchen, students gather around HD displays to watch distance-learning instruction and video conference with other groups of students and teachers. The Polycom video conferencing system connects the FIU lab with culinary schools in Ireland and China so participants can share content. The cameras, which blend with the architecture, capture all the activity throughout the lab for the video conferences, and function as 24/7 surveillance.

During a video conferencing session, students and guests can ask questions of those at the remote site. While a chef at a dining table gives a demonstration, a presenter annotates those images using the interactive 24-inch Crestron panel from a custom-built lectern, and shares them on the large display over the bar.

“The faculty and chef instructors use that display as the focal point for when they’re giving lectures,” says Dale Gomez, Chaplin IT director.

Presenters can also annotate content using four Crestron touch panels (including two wireless units). Four Crestron Capture HD units enable instructors to record their lectures in real time, and make them available for live streaming and downloading.

Thin-profile wall mounts by Chief make it easy for the displays to be serviced.

“They’re able to pull the displays out and move them at any angle they desire,” says Tony Gongora, AVI-SPL project manager.

Should FIU decide to expand its facility, they can do so, as AVI-SPL provided the infrastructure for additional sound and video.