Are the noise levels at your restaurant keeping customers away? Clea Sherman investigates ways to reduce the din of diners.
There seems to be a definite split between restaurant-goers: those who love a lively venue with loud music and an upbeat atmosphere, and diners who prefer an intimate setting where they can easily converse with the person next to them.
If your venue targets the first type, a lot of ambient noise is not such an issue. However, if you’re looking to attract small groups of diners in a casual or fine-dining environment, straining to hear can be a deterrent.
Sound it out
“Many restaurant owners and architects consider layout, aesthetics and, of course, the menu when creating a venue,” says acoustics specialist Geoffrey Barnes, “However, they don’t consider acoustics and noise control.”
Trendy decor like concrete and aluminium may look great but these materials do nothing to absorb sound. Add the din of music, chairs scraping on the floor and staff coming and going and your venue becomes a noisy place. As a result, people start speaking more loudly, which makes things even worse.
Barnes, who is director of sound-proofing business Acoustical Design, is often called to measure noise volumes in restaurants. “Ideally, the volume at your venue should be between 55 and 65 decibels. At around 80 decibels, it is too loud for people to hear each other”, he explains.
“There may even be an added concern about how volume levels can impact your staff’s hearing abilities,” Barnes says.
Noise has been known to contribute to stress, hearing loss and a drop in productivity so keeping the volume under control at your venue makes sense in more ways than one.
Keeping it down
There are a number of ways to reduce sound levels in your restaurant or cafe. One simple mid-way compromise is to offer an early dining hour or lunch deal where music is kept low. This could help attract diners who don’t want an overwhelmingly loud experience.
If you’re designing a restaurant from scratch, keep acoustics in mind. Including elements like padded booths can reduce the reflection of noise. If that’s not an option, you can design a wall to have a bench of padded seating running along it and even padded backing up to shoulder-height. “This will help absorb sound,” explains Barnes.
Even cloth napkins and curtains can make some difference, as can gluing small felt patches to the bottom of chair legs to reduce scraping noises.
Carpet is another option for your venue. This does make it more difficult to keep the floor clean but there are purpose-designed carpet options for restaurants which are made to be stain resistant.
Another thing to consider is an indoor/outdoor flow of dining, advises Barnes. “Open windows let sound through.”
For a more effective upgrade, acoustic improvement panelling can be retrofitted to pretty much any venue. These panels are available in a range of sizes and can be created in almost any colour, even with brand logos or artistic mural designs.
Boasting a fabric exterior, the backs of sound-absorbing panels have about 30mm of high-density insulation. Fitted to walls and ceilings where necessary, these panels help by soaking up sound.
“The best thing is that acoustic panels can be easily custom-made, installed and removed so if you relocate you can incorporate them into your new place,” Barnes says. “Once you have them in your venue, hang a sign near the door to let your customers know the place has been ‘Acoustically treated for your comfort’.”
While it can be a financial outlay to invest in acoustic treatments, it is one you should benefit from. “I sometimes have people hesitate about paying for panels, only to hear a few months later that they have closed due to a lack of customers,” Barnes says. “It’s better to take the preventative measures early so you know you are providing a venue your customers can enjoy.
How loud is your venue?
When you’re constantly working in a noisy environment, you may not notice how it is affecting your clientele. However, this is an element worth monitoring.
Tripadvisor and other review sites will tell you how your diners feel about the noise. Keep an eye on reviews and respond quickly if a lot of people mention they couldn’t hear their friends.
You can also measure sound yourself. There are apps such as SoundPrint and Decibel X which will give you an idea of how loud your venue is. Alternatively, call in the professionals to track volume over a week and let you know how to control noise levels.
The sound-adjustment factor
Have you ever walked into a startlingly loud venue and wondered how you will ever adjust to the racket, only to find you hardly notice the noise after a few minutes? As acoustic specialist Geoffrey Barnes explains, this is due to something called a ‘temporary threshold shift’, which actually renders you hard of hearing for the short term.
“This is why the music at parties keeps getting turned up,” he says. “People feel like they can’t hear it anymore. Meanwhile, the neighbours are being driven crazy.”
This phenomenon may explain why your customers are complaining
when you don’t think your venue is overly loud.