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Avoiding Excessive Noise in Restaurants

Eltoro - Excessive Noise


Acoustics in restaurants: why does it matter?

Would you like ‘sonic seasoning’ with that? Research shows that sound in restaurants is becoming increasingly important and can affect not only the customer experience, but also the bottom line.

Dining is too noisy.

Noise is still the second most common complaint amongst restaurant-goers, behind poor service. In fact, over the last decade or two, many restaurants have become so loud that some critics now regularly report on the noise levels alongside the quality of the food.

The acoustic challenge of the way we dine.

The way society wants to eat out has changed a lot over the last 10 years, and with it the economics of running a restaurant. Many new trends have an impact on design.

Dining is becoming far more casual. There’s been a shift away from taking reservations, trying to get more people through; more shared tables and plates, less formatted dining, more flexible dining, more bar dining. The way a restaurant is designed has to change to cope with the way society wants to eat out.

At the same time, dining spaces have become more minimalist with tables placed closer together for social cohesion, and hard surfaces everywhere. Tablecloths have all but disappeared and as much as they may say that’s a design element, that’s an economic decision.

Many of the most cutting-edge, design conscious restaurants are introducing a new level of noise to today’s already voluble restaurant scene. The new noisemakers: Restaurants housed in cavernous spaces with wood floors, linen-free tables, high ceilings and lots of windows — all of which cause sound to ricochet around what are essentially hard- surfaced echo chambers.

Higher end restaurants have done away with carpeting, heavy curtains, tablecloths, and plush banquettes gradually over the last 10-15 years, and then at a faster pace during the recession, saying such touches telegraph a fine-dining message out of sync with today’s cost- conscious, informal diner. Those features, though, were also sound absorbing.

Nobody remembers dining out in a silent, carpeted, draped and tableclothed room with fondness. It made one hate a quiet restaurant and love a noisy restaurant. However, we are reaching a crisis point because of a generational shift. On one hand: an aging population that has the money but can’t eat in 60 to 70% of the restaurant offerings. On the other: the next generation of chefs restaurantures and floor staff, who have grown up with noise and music.

Traditionally chefs played loud music while prepping and then once the first customer came in, the floor staff would switch it off. Now it’s almost as if they turn it up. In fact, some chefs work harder on their play lists than their food. The result is more noise while dining. It’s free-range noise now.

If you’re there to get together with friends or family and you can’t interact or you can’t talk to someone; you’re focusing on their lips and you’re nodding your head, vainly hoping it’s in time with the things they’re saying: that is isolating us versus bringing us together. It’s an anti-social act to have noise in a place that’s designed to get people together; where the table is the central core of its business.

Acoustics explained: how they work in restaurants

Restaurant designers face a difficult challenge: how to create buzz and ambience, while still letting people hear each other speak. Here are the key acoustic considerations.

It is difficult to define clear acoustic rules for restaurants: each one is unique and trying to create its own atmosphere and identity.

The target audience, the location, the space and the food are critical factors that the acoustic environment must align with. Catching dinner with friends after work before a fun night on the town, requires a completely different atmosphere than does a romantic dinner for two, or a formal business dinner meeting. The sound needs to match the restaurant.

As a result, when designing the acoustics for restaurants, it’s important to know as much as possible about what the restaurateur is trying to achieve. Will customers sit at long refectory tables or in small cosy alcoves, for instance?

With communal refectory tables, the hard surfaces and noise from other guests creates the atmosphere, ‘the buzz’; while alcoves can feel private and isolated, giving guests a sense of being in their own little world.

The problem is that today, restaurant acoustics are often unplanned and first tested and experienced on opening night. The trend away from soft furnishings to hard surfaces has created restaurants where sound is allowed to travel freely and reverberation times become excessively long. And with something called the Lombard Effect in play, noise levels in that kind of environment just keep rising.

The Lombard effect is an acoustic phenomenon that causes people to alter their speech in noisy environments, such as in noisy restaurants. Diners speak loudly to be heard by their companions and in turn diners at neighbouring tables also turn up the volume in order to be heard over their neighbours. The process continues until decibel levels typically reach well over 80 dB.

While noise inside is becoming increasingly talked about, the noise pollution that may affect neighbouring residents or businesses is also still important. This means that adjoining walls, ceilings and floors all have the necessary sound insulation values.

Materials influence the sound.

The materials used in a space influence the ‘tone colour’. Large glass facades, hard floors and walls, bare tables and chairs reflect sharp, clear sounds, whereas soft materials such as seating upholstery, curtains or drapes, tablecloths, carpets or rugs produce a softer atmosphere with a ‘mushy’ sound.

The positioning of materials also influences the sound experience: the more protrusions there are, the more they can ‘colour’ the sound in the room.

While choosing materials and furniture for their acoustic impact is important, making sure they’re fit for purpose is too. Choices should reflect the type of food served and the eating habits of the patrons. If there is a high risk of spills, table coverings may result in high maintenance costs and hard, smooth surfaces may be preferable.

So if you need to deal with excessive noise in your establishment contact Mc Donnell Design, Interior Designers.