Under Control: How Automation Increases Hospitality at Portside Pier

Operating a 40,000-square-foot San Diego bayfront destination offering four distinct concepts with 1,100 seats is no easy task, but one thing enables the management to focus on hospitality: automation.

The Brigantine, Inc., owners of Portside Pier turned to technologies powered by Control4 so most of the building runs automatically every day, including the lights, climate controls, outdoor firepits, audio system, video displays and even the security system and surveillance cameras.

According to AV-ators President Jared Magoon, who designed and integrated the Control4 automation system, “besides the cooking and direct customer service, the whole building can essentially run on autopilot.”

Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine wanted to learn more and reached out to Magoon.

How is automation integrated into Portside Pier and what was the thought process being the decision?

Almost every aspect of the building is automated by a Control4 system. Each day is predicated on disarming the alarm system. Usually started off around 3-4 a.m. by the cleaning crew, all lights are turned on to a predefined cleaning "scene." From that point on, the lights change prior to the restaurant opening for business, the music and TVs trigger, the HVAC schedules go on/off, etc. 


Throughout the day the lights adjust automatically thanks to the 20 or so light sensors throughout the restaurant. Leading up to sunset, the lights adjust to a "twilight" scene, and then ramp down over time to a set dinner scene. Once the day is over, after the manager arms the alarm, all TVs, heaters, HVAC, audio, etc. are turned off, and it lights a pathway for a few minutes to the parking lot so they can safely leave. If the alarm isn't disarmed, say for Christmas or a Holiday closure, no events trigger.

In what ways does automation help staff, management and the bottom line?

The Control4 system allows the managers to not have to think about turning things on/off, or worrying about lighting levels for guests. Simple iPad controls allow the bartenders or managers to change channels, turn on/off any of the 80 or so gas heaters outside, or control the lights if necessary. The bottom line is that if no one requested anything specific, the system would take care of the whole day without any help from a user, freeing up time for management to focus on running the restaurant more efficiently.

How does automation enhance the guest experience? Are guests even aware of all this?

To me, the best system is one where the guests don't even notice it. Lighting changes without them aware that it's even happening, or comfort settings set ahead of time so they're always comfortable, make it so they focus on the experience and the food, rather than distract them with unnecessary things.


What kind of staff training is involved?

With a new restaurant, we usually spend the first few days on site to make sure
they're comfortable with how the Control4 system is operating. We'll stay for dinner and make sure the lighting levels are where they need to be, and ensure the system is functioning properly. 

What can other restaurants learn from this?

Eventually every restaurant will have some kind of automation. The ones that are at the forefront of integrating it are going to reap the benefits the most since it will reduce the learning curve. It also benefits everyone when systems can do what we want without someone having to do it each day. It frees up management time, makes things run smoother and more efficiently. Also, what starts out as a larger expense up front, will save money in the long run by saving time and having a system in place that can adjust automatically and save energy.