In recent years the number of complaints about restaurant noise has increased. It is now the second most common complaint among restaurant-goers – second behind poor service! Noise is becoming such an issue in restaurants that critics add it to their reviews, and there is even an app which tells patrons the locations of quieter restaurants.
Why are restaurants so noisy?
Restaurant design is for noise! According to Architectural Digest, Mid-Century and modern minimalism are both here to stay. While the sparse modern décor, high exposed ceilings and almost no curtains, upholstery or carpets is a visual dream – it is an acoustic nightmare.
- Floors no longer have carpets.
- Seating is not upholstered.
- Tablecloths are a rarity.
- Communal tables are popular.
- Open kitchens.
- Clinking plates.
- Shifting of seats on hard floors.
- Loud (and sometimes live!) music.
All these elements combine to create a noise level which can exceed 80 dB. Noise at this level is “extremely loud”.
Table 1: Noise Levels
|Conversation is easy||60-70 dB|
|Must speak with a raised voice||71-80 dB|
|Extremely loud||(over 80 dB)|
Table 2: What noise sounds like
|50 dB||Is the sound of a moderate rain shower|
|60 dB||Equates to normal conversation|
|70 dB||Is the equivalent to noise made by a loud vacuum cleaner|
|Above 80 dB||City traffic (hazard to diner and staff)|
Not only does excessive noise impair how we taste our food, but it is also dangerous for employees. One of Australia’s leading food critics even commented on an experience at a restaurant where she had to use her phone to communicate with her companion because the venue was so noisy.
When we experience too much background noise, we create the Lombard Effect – where people have to shout to be heard above the noise, making noise ever louder.
The right balance is to have enough noise to create a comfortable ‘hum’ but not to be bombarded by it.
Most restaurants want noise. A noisy restaurant gives the impression that a restaurant is busy/vibrant.
Finding the right balance is complicated – many believe the best combination is not too quiet (no one wants it to feel like a mausoleum) with noise levels between 60-70 dB. At this level, you can comfortably hold a conversation.
The Generational shift creates difficulty in designing the perfect ambiance. The older generation has money to spend on eating out but does not appreciate excessive noise – whereas the Chefs and Wait Staff servicing them are accustomed to the noise and operate more effectively with background noise.
Many have even stated that restaurant noise is creating anti-social behaviour.
Why are restaurants designed for noise?
The current Haute-casual dining trend helps restaurateurs become more significant and more successful.
- The hard surfaces (no linens) are easier to clean – less expenditure.
- Less ornate décor such as linens, table setting etc. – fewer items to wash and replace
- Noise encourages increased alcohol consumption and produces fasting diner turnover.
- Noise encourages people to order unhealthier food and more of it.
However, while noise may make more money for revenue, it is not encouraging people to return to the venue.
Tips for identifying poor acoustics
If you are one of the restaurants that have experienced noise complaints, there are ways to identify areas of poor acoustics.
- Clap your hands, talk loudly, and have a group talk and laugh loudly then softly, listening all the while to how natural or unnatural it sounds.
- Then have the group move to another location in the room and repeat.
- Gather a separate group of people with packing blankets move from place to place directed by the listener.
- Wherever there is an area that sounds strange or unnatural, move the people with the blankets to the closest wall or hard surface and see if it makes a difference.
- If it does, make a note, stick a post-it on the wall, and move to the next area.
The practice will provide a basic mud map of where there are noise concerns in a restaurant. Before moving onto to phoning a commercial acoustics supplier, you will also need to consider how the materials used in the space influence the acoustics. Large glass facades, hard floors and walls, bare tables and chairs reflect sharp, clear sounds. In contrast, soft materials such as seating upholstery, curtains or drapes, tablecloths, carpets or rugs produce a quieter atmosphere with a “muffled” sound.
The best way to identify where a restaurant lacks acoustically is to contact an acoustic engineer. They will complete sound readings and work with your commercial acoustics specialist to design the best solution for your restaurant.
How to fix restaurant acoustics
Like the open office, the loud restaurant seems to have outstayed its welcome. Reducing the noise in your restaurant doesn’t mean you need to refurbish your entire space – simple alterations will improve your acoustics.
- Sound absorbing wall linings to create an absorbing feature wall that can also be art.
- Sound-absorbing ceiling linings to create ceiling islands and or baffles of sound-absorbing materials where ceilings are very high.
- Spreading and dampening the sound using alcoves and physical barriers that break up the path of the soundwaves and dissipate their energy.
- Separating seating areas for large, loud groups of more than eight from small intimate groups of two to four people
- Moving seating away from speakers, open kitchens, or kitchen machines like coffee grinders and blenders.
- Using fabrics and other soft furnishings wherever possible – it doesn’t have to be old fashioned carpet, curtains and white tablecloths. There are plenty of retro and modern fabrics such as leather and hide, linen, silk, bamboo and rubber which are available to create unique and trending looks.
- Masking or blocking background noise, such as traffic and aircraft, when designing outdoor areas.
- Reducing impact sound through the use of rubber caps on chair legs and softer floor coverings on main walkways
- Turning down the music.
To make sure you food critics mark your restaurant as “comfortable” in the noise spectrum and to be included in the “quieter restaurant app” make sure you consider acoustic solutions in your restaurant.