Taming the Restaurant Roar

As the noise levels in restaurants continue to rise, customers have begun voicing their complaints. No one wants to have to strain to hear or yell to communicate with their companions or waiters, but restaurant managers also know customers don’t want to feel like they need to whisper so as to not disturb a too-quiet dining room. John Calder with Acoustical Surfaces Inc. explains how restaurants can find a happy middle ground.

High Stakes at High Volumes

Restaurants that have uncomfortably loud dining rooms may lose business over the clamor, no matter how beautiful the décor or delicious the food.

“It is quickly becoming a hot-button issue,” agrees Calder. “My wife and I love the food at a local restaurant here in Minneapolis, but the insane amount of combined noise from the open kitchen, the nearby bar area, and the diners shouting to be heard by their friends make an otherwise delightful experience a bad memory. We won’t go back there until they fix it.”

With so many restaurants to choose from, it’s not surprising consumers are starting to take their audio comfort into account, meaning restaurant designers must as well.

“Because restaurant noise is increasingly a problem, and in the news more often, we’re getting inquiries from architects and designers well before any construction,” says Calder. “This is the least-costly way to mitigate noise. But there are also a lot of restaurant owners who didn’t consider the problem of customer dissatisfaction due to an overly-noisy room, and we hear from them after they’ve opened. It can be more disruptive and expensive to retro-fit some solutions, but we also have some relatively easy fixes to cost-effectively solve many noise issues.”

Dimming the Din

For restaurants that need to find a way to dampen noise levels in their dining rooms, there are quite a few options to consider. While open kitchens are a popular design, that layout can result in the increasing volume of the surrounding area.

“Chefs always say there’s nothing louder than a kitchen at rush hour, but I doubt many have played drums in a metal band,” says Calder. “Common sense dictates closing off the kitchen, which helps a lot. Angled and convex-curved walls spread out the big problematic sound reflections, which also helps.”

However, restaurateurs must keep their visual standards in mind while considering how to keep the noise in check.

“Restaurants care about their visual ambience, and when adding the sound ambience to that, sound usually arrives as a lower priority. We get that,” says Calder. “There are a few easy-button sound absorbers, though – we have a unique product called ‘Silk Metal,’ which is scientifically cutting-edge technology consisting of aluminum drop-in ceiling grid tiles with micro-perforations, which act as absorbers across a broad band of noise frequencies.

“We also have micro-perf sound-absorbing wood panels, a new wall and ceiling panel called ‘Envirocoustic Wood Wool’ and ‘Acoustic Wall Art,’ which is a sound-absorbent panel with high-resolution printed fabric covering our Poly Max absorber panels,” explains Calder. “They can look like a classical painting, an art photo, or the restaurant’s logo – whatever the designer wishes.”

The ability to customize the sound-absorbing tools is important to designers who wish to maintain existing designs. Some restaurants choose to turn their sound control panels into works of art that fit in with their themes to help kill two birds with one (soft, sound absorbing) stone.

Finding Balance

How do you determine the right noise level for your restaurant? Calder says that all depends on the ambience you’re going for, which can be influenced by everything from the menu to what type of crowd you hope to create.

“[Ideal noise levels] can depend on the target demographics and the type of dining experience the business is hoping to attract. Even restaurants that cater to younger crowds are often far too loud, regardless of age group,” explains Calder. “If customers must shout at their tablemates, it rapidly becomes tiring and makes for socially disconnected diners. A lively ambience is nice. Loud noise, however, is tiring and destructive.”

If your restaurant needs to bring the sound level down a bit, it may pay off to speak to a professional about the issue. Finding the right audio ambience can have a huge impact on your customers’ experiences and, consequently, your business’s long-term success.

“There’s a frequency component to noise that a simple decibel level may not include. The type of noise, its frequency content, and type of customer all factor into the solution. Acousticians, acoustical consultants, and our own sales staff have many years of experience in containing and reducing noise,” says Calder. “The right acoustical expert is one with experience in helping restaurants achieve the right balance between too quiet and an airplane landing in your dining room.”

Want to learn more about how sound works in rooms? Check out Calder’s primer on sound in the video below.

Courtney Barkley
Courtney Barkley

Courtney Barkley has lived in nearly as many southeastern states as most Americans have probably visited, settling in East Tennessee in early 2013. She and her husband Thomas were married during ShadoCon 2012 – an anime, gaming, and comics convention – in a ceremony that featured a reading about dinosaurs in love from a friend dressed as Doctor Who. She spends her free time chasing her brilliant and imaginative son Nathan, hanging out with friends, binge-watching shows, playing video games, and keeping up with the characters of the Marvel Universe. And, any chance she gets, she sneaks off to Florida to visit friends and the happiest place on earth – Disney World.

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