How is COVID-19 affecting retail, restaurants? Read about building automation, controls

With consumers frequently enjoying delivered meals and shopping for goods online, brick-and-mortar restaurants and retail structures need to have more advanced building automation systems than ever to compete

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 18, 2020


  • Scott Garrison, principal, Peter Basso Associates, Troy, Mich. An electrical engineer for more than 30 years, Garrison heads up his company’s Commercial and Government Buildings market sector group. He has worked on a range of projects including large corporate headquarters, data centers, casinos, sports and entertainment venues, municipal and educational facilities.
  • Jessica Iversen, PE, Seattle office leader | project engineer, RTM Engineering Consultants, Seattle. As RTM’s Seattle office leader, Iversen Jessica manages a team of engineers and designers working in a variety of market sectors across the country. Her portfolio encompasses design in retail spaces, educational facilities, multifamily residential, restaurants, and and a range of tenant build-outs projects.
  • Bradley D. Williams, PE, vice president, Bala Consulting Engineers, New York City. In his role of vice president of MEP, Williams manages the overall New York office operations and oversees a broad range of projects, encompassing the infrastructure, hospitality, data center and, and corporate markets. His more than 27 years of experience includes projects for high-profile clients like Deloitte, JPMC and Rockefeller Center.
  • Jason Wollum, PE, LEED AP BD+C, retail practice director | senior vice president, Henderson Engineers, Kansas City. Having joined the company in 1997, Wollum is now a senior vice president responsible for the design, management and, and coordination of several programs. He also mentors young engineers at the company.

CSE: From your experience, what systems within retail, restaurant and mixed-use facilities are benefiting from automation that previously might not have?

Wollum: Automation and technology in general are helping retail, restaurant, and mixed-use facility owners operate their spaces more efficiently. The building management systems today are easier to access, more encompassing of all connected building systems, and provide more data in useable forms than ever before. This gives owners better data to make informed decisions about their business. Specifically talking about building systems, the mechanical and lighting systems used in spaces are much more efficient and controllable than in years past. This allows the designer to offer better design solutions to meet client needs while meeting the requirements of energy codes and other necessary considerations.

Garrison: Certainly, more advanced lighting control systems are being employed. Adherence to more stringent energy codes and the ability of LED products to more easily integrate with controls has pushed this forward. As a consequence, the owners of restaurant and retail spaces benefit from more sophisticated, but more usable control systems.

Iversen: Many clients within these industries have full building management systems to monitor and control all aspects of the building cohesively. This helps minimize necessary input from staff on a daily basis, saving time for employees. Restaurant lighting systems are typically fully automated, with dimming throughout the day now done on an automatic schedule.

CSE: Is your team using building information modeling (BIM) in conjunction with the architects, trades and owner to design a project? Describe an instance in which you’ve turned over the BIM to the facility maintenance team for long-term operations and maintenance (O&M) or measurement and verification (M&V).

Wollum: Most of Henderson’s projects are using BIM technology, and we do work with clients that have taken the use of BIM to the next step of integrating into their long-term operations and maintenance programs. We have developed models on LEED and other similar projects that were used to do post-occupancy measurement and verification as well as ongoing commissioning of the building systems.

Garrison: The use of BIM has influenced the way we design restaurant and retail spaces, just as it has all of the different market sectors we operate in. Clash detection, coordination, design automation can all be applied to improve the design process. However, the owners and operators of such spaces are not typically sophisticated facility operators. As such, we have not seen any interest in using BIM as a tool in managing the operations and maintenance.

CSE: In what way is the need for more smart technology and features in such buildings affecting your work on these projects?

Iversen: The move toward more integrated and connected buildings has driven a need for more robust data infrastructure. Where once, most data needs were grouped only around point-of-sale (POS) areas, such as front counters or check-out areas, and a couple offices, the need for internet connectivity and data points has spread throughout the retail environment and continues to expand.

Wollum: I almost always look at advances in smart technology as a step forward to total building integration. Typically, as systems and components get technologically smarter, they also communicate in less proprietary ways allowing for greater integration across building systems. The end user wins in this by having better user interface, more controllability, and more useable data.

CSE: Has the “internet of things” (IoT) come up in discussion or been implemented on such projects? Has this integration impacted the project?

Iversen: IoT is going to change the face of retail, but right now, we are just seeing small changes in facilities. Tracking of customers through wireless stations and apps are helping retail businesses gather more information about their customer base. Smart shelving, touchless checkout, and automated customer service have all been discussed, and are even being implemented in some stores, though not yet widely used. Often, we are designing electrical and IT systems with greater capacity than is currently required, to try to lend flexibility to retail facilities as these trends become more widespread.

Wollum: The largest impact to projects system-wise regarding items or components being used during building operation is wireless bandwidth and connectivity and having different systems for building operations connectivity and customer connectivity. We find that many operators in retail, restaurant, and mixed-use underestimate the physical space, power, and HVAC requirements for the equipment needed to make a project smart and connected today and in the future.

Garrison: We have seen integration influence these projects is where the owners (landlords) of mixed use-facilities use advanced integration and IOT to offer enhanced maintenance, monitoring and operations on behalf of their tenants. By specifying MEPL system components for the tenant spaces that can be easily integrated into open protocol building management systems, the landlord can integrate the tenant’s systems and offer enhanced services either as an added service or a value-added service to their tenants.

CSE: What smart devices are owners requesting, and how are you meeting these needs?

Wollum: Most smart devices that we see on projects interact with customers in some way, creating a unique experience. These range from information touch screens to fully immersive panoramic experiences that help tell a brand’s story in a multi-sensory way. We have designed lighting systems that use Bluetooth technology to assist with customer wayfinding in a store through their personal cell phone and the brand’s app. We have also designed business analytics systems that help with data collection and building operation.

CSE: Cybersecurity and hacking are increasing concerns — are you seeing such concerns impacting your work on retail, restaurant and mixed-use facilities?

Wollum: We are seeing concern, so much so that we have seen contract language with requirements around cybersecurity and protection of data. I would encourage everyone to read through these sections of contracts and make sure that you understand what is needed on the consultants end to comply.