Close this search box.

How to identify and address restaurant noise

Tips for the best hospitality soundproofing

In recent years the number of complaints about restaurant noise has increased. In fact, it is now the second most common complaint among restaurant-goers – second only to 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.

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?

To put it simply, restaurants are designed for noise! According to Architectural Digest, the mid-century and modern minimalism schools of design are both here to stay. And while their sparse modern décor, high exposed ceilings and almost no curtains, upholstery or carpets may be a visual dream, they are an acoustic nightmare.

Factors which contribute to restaurant noise include:

  • 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

These factors don’t look like changing any time soon. The current haute-casual dining trend helps restaurateurs become more notable and more successful:

  1. The hard surfaces (with no linens) are easier to clean – which means less expenditure.
  2. Less ornate décor such as linens, table setting etc. means fewer items to wash and replace.
  3. Noise encourages increased alcohol consumption, and produces fasting diner turnover.
  4. Noise encourages people to order unhealthier food – and more of it!

However, while noise may make more money for revenue, it doesn’t encourage people to return to the venue. In fact, all of these elements combine to create a noise level which can exceed 80 dB. As you can see from the table below, noise at this level is considered “extremely loud”.

Table 1: Noise levels

Quiet60 dB
Conversation is easy60-70 dB
Must speak with a raised voice71-80 dB
Extremely loud(over 80 dB)

Table 2: What noise sounds like

50 dBThe sound of a moderate rain shower
60 dBEquates to normal conversation
70 dBIs the equivalent to noise made by a loud vacuum cleaner
Above 80 dBCity traffic (a hazard to diners and staff)

Problems caused by excessive restaurant noise

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 that noise ever louder.

The right balance for any venue is to have enough noise to create a comfortable ‘hum’ but to ensure that patrons are not bombarded by it.

How noise creates ambience for a venue

Most restaurants want noise. A noisy restaurant gives the impression that a restaurant is busy and vibrant.

That’s why finding the right balance is complicated – many people believe the best noise level is not too quiet (after all, no one wants it to feel like a mausoleum!) with noise levels between 60-70 dB. At this level, patrons can comfortably hold a conversation.

The generational shift also creates difficulty in designing the perfect ambience. 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.

Ways to identify poor restaurant acoustics

If your restaurant has 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.

In this way, you can create a basic ‘mud map’ of where there are noise concerns in your 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 venue’s 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 improve restaurant acoustics

Much like the open plan 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 can improve your acoustics.

The best solutions for improving restaurant acoustics is to work with a company such as Avenue Interior Systems that specialises in acoustic design.

Recommended noise control solutions may include:

  1. Sound absorbing wall linings to create an absorbing feature wall that can also be art.
  2. Sound-absorbing ceiling linings to create ceiling islands or baffles of sound-absorbing materials where ceilings are very high.
  3. Spreading and dampening the sound using alcoves and physical barriers that break up the path of the soundwaves and dissipate their energy.
  4. Separating seating areas for large, loud groups of more than eight from small intimate groups of two to four people.
  5. Moving seating away from speakers, open kitchens, or kitchen machines like coffee grinders and blenders.
  6. 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.
  7. Masking or blocking background noise, such as traffic and aircraft, when designing outdoor areas.
  8. Reducing impact sound through the use of rubber caps on chair legs and softer floor coverings on main walkways.
  9. Turning down the music.

Talk to Avenue about soundproofing solutions for your venue

To make sure your 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.For more information on any noise control products, call the Avenue team on 1300 827 177