Restaurant Noise Reduction
The top complaint diners make about restaurants isn't about the service, food, décor, dinnerware, or any of the other things restaurateurs focus the majority of their time, money, and energy on. The top complaint is an aspect that's rarely considered in the planning stages of a restaurant: the noise level.1 Customers who want to enjoy a meal socializing with friends and family all too often find themselves straining to hear each other over the clamor of busy dining rooms. Below, we address some of the causes of this noise and ways to help reduce it.
Deafening Dining Rooms
While it may seem like an exaggeration, a "deafening" dining room isn't far from reality in some cases. Most restaurants operate at an average of 80 decibels, and anyone who is exposed to 85 decibels of noise for extended periods of time can suffer hearing damage.2 That means employees who work full shifts at a restaurant even a little louder than normal may develop hearing problems over time.
Excessive noise levels in dining rooms is caused by a variety of things, but one of the most common is the growing trend of open kitchens. Kitchens are notoriously loud places, with the sounds of refrigeration, exhaust fans, and food processors blending with clanging utensils, sizzling food, and employees who must communicate with each other. In open-kitchen formats, this noise often bleeds into the dining room, creating a humming baseline of noise that all conversation in the dining room has to overcome. Nearby road traffic and the general noise that accompanies serving customers also add to the noise level.
With these noises already present in the dining room, when customers are added to the mix, they must speak louder to hear each other, and servers have to speak louder still to be heard. All these noise sources create a snowball effect, with customers and servers having to speak ever louder to be heard in the growing cacophony.
If you feel your restaurant may be too loud, there are some steps you can take to mitigate that problem. Restaurant noise control can help keep your customers more comfortable and help protect the hearing of your employees. While some of these solutions require a major dining room overhaul, some can be easily implemented.
While open kitchens are certainly on-trend, restaurant owners need to balance the appeal of the layout with the possibility it can contribute to creating a cacophony in the dining room. If you do want to have your kitchen visible to the public, you might consider a glass wall, which may not block out all of the kitchen noise but can help cut the volume.
Booths can be an efficient way to both increase seating your restaurant and limit the buildup of noise in your dining room. Booths with high partitions can be especially helpful in reducing conversation bleed, and cushioned booths can also help absorb noise. Because booths tend to have long, narrow tables, customers often sit closer to each other and don't have to speak as loudly to be heard across the table.
While hard surfaces allow soundwaves to bounce around, building up and contributing to a noise problem, soft materials help absorb sound.3 The industrial aesthetic that is trendy right now, with concrete and exposed brick and wood, consists mostly of hard surfaces that can result in an overly loud room. Carpet is one of the best ways to dampen those echoes, but other options like cork and rubber are soft enough to help absorb some sound while still maintaining the smooth appearance valued by many restaurants.
Acoustic materials include anything specifically meant to absorb noise. This can be acoustic panels, foam, and even certain types of paint and ceiling tiles. Acoustic panels can sometimes be painted to match surrounding décor, and foam can be installed in inconspicuous places – even a layer of foam on the underside of each table can help absorb some noise. Some acoustic materials can be bought and installed by the user, but in most cases consulting with an acoustics company will help you find the best solutions for restaurant noise reduction.
Quiet Kitchen Equipment
Whether you have an open or closed kitchen, some noise is likely to spread from it into the dining room. Keeping the noise levels down in the kitchen can help limit overall noise while also creating a more comfortable working environment for your kitchen staff. When purchasing loud equipment such as blenders or food processers, pay attention to the decibel ratings and consider purchasing specialty, quiet units. You may also consider using remote refrigeration, freezers, and ice makers, which have condensers that can be placed on the roof or otherwise outside, removing some of the heat and noise from your building.
Address Outdoor Noise
Noise coming in from the outside can be very difficult to address without major changes, but if it is a big problem in your location, you probably need to consider making those. A vestibule and a heavy door are two simple ways to help limit how much noise makes its way inside. If there are windows on the front of your building, adding draperies can help absorb some noise. If you still have a problem after implementing these improvements, you may need to consider a construction solution of adding sound insulation into the walls.4.
- Top Restaurant Complaints. Consumer Reports. Accessed November 2017.
- How to Control the Noise Levels in Your Restaurant. Restaurant Engine. Accessed November 2017.
- Types of Materials that Create the Best Echoes. Sciencing. Accessed November 2017.
- Restaurant Noise Epidemic. Aaron Allen & Associates. Accessed November 2017.