Project Spotlight: Firewater Kitchen & Bar – Custom Acoustic Panels

In a recent article, we discussed restaurant noise and some of the challenges of fixing the issue. When we experience a place, it’s not just visual elements that we take in, but also acoustic elements. When restaurants are overly noisy, what should be an enjoyable time with friends or family becomes stressful and we want to leave. We even perceive the food as being worse than if we could enjoy it comfortably! Firewater Kitchen & Bar in Oakland, MD, was one of many restaurants that suffer from these effects of an overly noisy environment.

The designer of Firewater introduced us to Brenda McDonald, the restaurant owner, who expressed the same concerns we’ve heard time after time. What’s the business case for spending the money on acoustics when most guests only spend an hour or so at dinner? How can we fix the noise problem without compromising the way the restaurant looks?

In Firewater’s case, the stunning two-tiered knotty pine ceiling and panoramic windows, while beautiful, introduced so much reverberation to the space, that the restaurant struggled to hit its stride during peak business hours. “With our high ceilings and all of the wood,” said Brenda, “the surfaces are so hard that it is difficult for the bartenders. They have to reach over, and really bend their ear to hear the customer.” This isn’t simply a problem with the customer’s dining experience – it translates to real dollars for the restaurant and service staff. Drinks and food consistently came back to the bar and kitchen because orders were incorrect or delivered to the wrong table. Since the service staff are the face of the restaurant to guests, any issues tend to fall back on the service staff, resulting in lower tips, frustration, and ever more chaos. The business case against noisy restaurants gets pretty compelling pretty quickly…

Fixing the noise problem in an existing facility can be difficult. Especially for restaurants, the physical space is a big part of the business’ brand. The way a restaurant sounds sets the tone from the moment guests arrive. One of the bartenders at Firewater commented that she used to go on break and sit in her car for a few moments for some peace and quiet after a busy shift, but she could still hear the din and chaos of the restaurant from 25-30 yards away from inside the vehicle!

Firewater presented several unique challenges in solving this acoustic problem. The high ceilings and knotty pine look are an integral part of the restaurant’s brand, but they were exacerbating an already noisy area. That’s when we got involved and had to take our intelligent acoustic solutions to the next level. Using our award-winning Novawall acoustic system, coupled with state-of-the-art high-resolution printed fabric, we invented a way to simulate the knotty pine ceiling as an acoustic absorber on top of the existing wood surface. Environmentally friendly acoustic core now adds absorption to the ceiling of the restaurant, and our new AI-assisted graphic design technology enabled us to cover the entire ceiling with realistic, life-like wood, all printed on acoustic fabric.

The result? In Brenda’s own words, “If I held up a picture before, and a picture after, [it looks] the exact same.” The difference? As Jeany Blamble, the general manager, put it, “There’s no more yelling across the bar at the customer, across the table at the customer. The staff members are able to…communicate better with each other as well as the customer.”

With a properly treated acoustic environment that also leverages the unique visual design of the restaurant, staff and guests can communicate more effectively with each other. Now, what Brenda calls “the best place in Deep Creek Lake with the best view in Deep Creek Lake” also sounds the best.