The young ladies in the front room talking about their love lives are called the "LOA Dolls," and now that they've taken your dinner order, their conversation will be blasted out across the digital ether to a few dozen smartphone screens and laptops across the world. They're the stars of Live on Air, the world's first live broadcast-focused restaurant, but later this evening, the owner, Joe, might sit in front of the camera, or the action could switch to the kitchen, where chef Bobby Bouyer is cooking up New Orleans-inspired dishes like shrimp and grits and steamed mussels and clams.
Joe Barbour, a veteran of the New York and Las Vegas nightlife scenes, recently kicked open the doors to this unusual new restaurant in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, NYC. Since opening night of Live on Air, Barbour and his team have been broadcasting segments from the dining room and the kitchen on Periscope and Facebook. If you look closely at the bottom of the menu, you’ll notice some fine print explaining that diners may be photographed, and the restaurant has the right to "use your likeness, mannerism, and voice without compensation or credit." Customers can also get 10 percent off their checks if they decide to be interviewed on camera.
Barbour says that the idea for Live on Air was "first conceived after watching The Truman Show in 1998." During its first two weeks in business, the team shared over 50 live-stream sessions on Persicope, and about as many live videos on Facebook. Most of the action takes place in a corner of the dining room decked out with two directors' chairs, foam soundproofing, and a red curtain — a studio, of sorts. So far, Live on Air has streamed server confessionals, Barbour interviewing a local artist friend about politics, a customer talking about the meal he just finished, 15 minutes of kitchen prep, and a seven-minute clip of passersby on the street outside the restaurant.
The most popular Periscope stream was viewed by around 180 users, and one of the Facebook videos depicting a blind-folded taste-test reached more than 1,500 people — a huge jump from the typical viewership, which is in the 100 to 200 person range. Barbour says that Live on Air's website might someday offer real-time feeds of the dining room and the kitchen, but for now all the streaming is happening on social media.
The restaurateur admits that Live on Air has had a slow start — which might explain why most of the videos focus on the staff and not the diners. "It's difficult to incorporate customers into the broadcast when there are no customers," Barbour says. "Getting customers into the room, marketing the restaurant, and getting people comfortable with what a live broadcast restaurant is all about is a learning curve for the guests and for us, as well." The restaurant made its debut during what is typically a very slow time for New York restaurants, in general — the early days of winter, right after the holidays.
The restaurant’s crew includes some aspiring actors and musicians, and Barbour wants to make this a place where they don't have to "check their performance passions at the door." The restaurateur notes: "I encourage my actor servers who are working on dialects to feel free to serve a table in a British accent if that’s what they’re working on in acting class."
Right now, Live on Air does not offer a voyeuristic glimpse at a restaurant going through the rhythms of service, because the set-up is too rigid. But employees appear to be having fun with the broadcasting conceit, and if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant before, these videos might remind you of the times you spent goofing around with your fellow staffers on slow nights.
Of course, the action in the streams and overall vibe of Live on Air might change if business picks up and Barbour and his crew make a few technical adjustments. Barbour notes: "As we start having DJs come in on the weekends, we'll be doing live broadcasts of their sets. And as all the technology issues get ironed out — as our audio and our video snags start to un-snag — we'll definitely be doing more stuff where the cameras are just running over the bar or the kitchen, and not so much starting and stopping."
Talking to the restaurateur, it’s clear that he has a sense of humor about this new project and knows that it’s not for everyone. Barbour quips: "Quite simply, it’s not the place to cheat on your wife — you never know when you’re going to be caught on camera."
Live on Air [Official]