Hospitality venues will be welcoming customers back into their venues as COVID restrictions are further relaxed.  But the safety measures put in place to limit the possible spread of infection could be a barrier to communication, and a barrier to business.

Face masks, face shields and Perspex or glass screens all impact on sound intelligibility.  Face masks alone can limit sound levels by up to 29 decibels – roughly the equivalent of wearing a pair of earplugs.

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Sound levels are limited even further by face shields.  Add to this a clear screen and background noise and it becomes difficult for staff and customers to hear each other.

At best, it could mean ordering or ticketing errors because information wasn’t heard clearly; at worst customers or visitors may leave in frustration and not return.  But there are solutions.

Clearer communication 

Clear screens are positioned where staff need to communicate with customers the most – at reception areas, till points, ticket windows and cloakrooms.

Speech at these areas can be enhanced by window intercom systems that transfer sound from one side of the barrier to the other through a microphone and speakers.  A uni-directional microphone will pick up just the speaker’s voice and not the general chat or noise nearby.

Models that offer hands-free use limit any infection present being spread and most have robust housing that can be sanitised for additional protection.  Open duplex technology means both parties can speak simultaneously.  Being able to have a ‘normal’ conversation minimises stress for staff and customers as they adjust to this new leisure environment. 

Ideally, venues need a system that can be turned on and left to do its job.  Some models feature a ‘sleep’ mode when speech (not just sound) can’t be detected, making them extremely energy efficient.

Inclusive conversation

While window intercoms give the majority of customers the clarity of sound they need, those with hearing loss may need additional support.  In order to offer an inclusive service and meet the needs of many of the 12 million UK adults with hearing loss who wear hearing aids, it’s important to make sure any system can be fitted with a hearing loop.  This cuts out background noise and delivers sound directly to a user’s hearing aid. 

Maintaining communication – and your brand

Window intercom systems should be unobtrusive.  Visitors should receive the benefits without really knowing they are there.  Many models come with the option to customise the housing so speakers fit seamlessly into existing counters and furniture. 

Speech transfer systems at Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort in Mississippi are hard to spot

Sounds for social distancing

As well as the muffling effects of face masks and shields, social distancing can further reduce someone’s ability to hear clearly; up to 12dB can be lost at two metres apart.   

This has an obvious impact for venues running tours or events, but staff may also need to be distanced – during training sessions, for example, or during restaurant service.

Tour guides or managers on the floor can communicate with their group via a radio frequency transmitter.  A pocket-sized unit, it can be worn on a belt or on a neck loop, giving them the freedom to move.  The corresponding visitors or staff receive the signal through headphones plugged into a similarly-sized receiver.  

Because they use radio waves, the signal isn’t affected by electrical equipment.  They even allow communication for outdoor service as the signal passes through walls, glass or other partitions.

Expert assessment

As with any element of venue design, expert assessment of the space is vitally important, as is professional installation, to give customers and visitors the very best listening experience.  With COVID-safe measures likely to be required for some time yet, assistive technology is a sound investment.

Andrew Thomas is the Market Development Director from assistive listening specialists, Contacta Systems.