The Restaurant Noise Problem

Restaurant noise is becoming more and more of a problem as restaurants try to achieve the sound of an active environment. The theory is that an active sounding restaurant will sound more lively and give the impression of an exciting and busy establishment. This design practice has lead to open kitchens, open bars and open dining areas where sound from one area transfers to the other because no barriers exist to help block and diffuse the noise.

A 2014 Zagat survey of restaurant diners showed that noise was the number 1 complaint. Noise topped the list at 23% of the vote, with service and prices following at 21% and 18% respectively.

Modern restaurant design also includes the use of hard surfaces for floors and walls, mirrors, high ceilings, windows without drapery treatments, concrete topped bars, glass, tiled and wooden tables without linens; all of which contribute to poor acoustics and a noisy environment.

Diners often complain about the noise problem in their favorite restaurants and many go online to share their experience with others. An internet search of the phrase RESTAURANT NOISE will show many reviews from and of customers complaining about restaurant noise problems.

All of this noise created by activity in the restaurant is made worse by patrons who have to speak louder to carry on a conversation. And as restaurants close their doors and windows as cold weather approaches the noise levels become worse.

Some restaurants don’t consider the extra sound as noise but instead think of it as an exciting atmosphere with a good vibe. Some restaurants actually prefer the noise situation since they feel it will get the customers to leave faster so they can serve more customers.

A customer can help resolve this problem by letting the restaurant manager or owner know that unless the problem is addressed, they won’t be coming back.

A 2011 Harvard Business School study found that a one star increase on Yelp can lead to a 5 to 9% increase in revenue for non chain restaurants.

Restaurant noise solutions

Acoustic treatments don’t have to be obvious if they don’t add to the decor. On the other hand, artwork can be created using custom printed acoustic panels. Unique shapes and designs can enhance the decor.

Acoustic treatments can be designed to blend into a ceiling or wall so they are not noticed. Black fabrics can blend into a black ceiling and a wide array of colors are available. Most people think of burlap type fabric when they think of acoustic panels, but a wide selection of fabrics are available in different weaves, patterns and fibers to achieve almost any desired design.

Acoustic wood treatments are available with grooves and holes that allow sound to transfer to absorptive materials behind to reduce restaurant noise while maintaining a desired design.

Creative opportunities to introduce absorption can be achieved in areas such as between liquor shelves behind a bar. The undersides of tables and chairs can be treated to create absorption that will not be noticed. The shape and alignment of walls can be altered to avoid parallel surfaces which tend to reflect noise back and forth.

A selection of background music can also be chosen to avoid lyrics which interfere with conversation.

Strategies in a noisy restaurant

If you find yourself in a restaurant with poor acoustics and high noise level, there are a few strategies you can take to try to make your experience more enjoyable.

  • Look for a table in an alcove or a side room. The walls should help block and diffuse some of the noise. Ask for your table to be moved if necessary.
  • Ask for the music to be turned down. This will have an added benefit since other diners will lower their voice since they no longer have to shout over the music.
  • Be aware that this is sometimes more of a problem for middle aged and older restaurant patrons who’s hearing has diminished and are more sensitive to poor acoustics in noisy environments. It is the loss of high frequency acuity in hearing that sometimes makes it more difficult to hear speech in noisy restaurants.
  • Download a free mobile application such as a decibel meter that can read the decibel levels. Point out to restaurant managers and owners the danger of long term exposure to high decibels levels. Decibel levels over 85db are recognized by audiologists as levels that can cause permanent hearing loss after long term exposure. Workers exposed to these levels for long periods are required by OSHA to wear hearing protection.

Oeler Industries has helped many local restaurants in the Pittsburgh area address these problems. We have worked with architects during the design phase of new restaurants to help achieved desired aesthetics. We have also worked with established restaurants to correct problems after a restaurant has opened. Some of our work on new restaurants can be seen in Bistro 19 in Mount Lebanon and Altius on Mount Washington. We collaborated on design with Teresa Bucco, of Bucco Architecture for both of these restaurants.You can also see our work in Rivers Casino. Andrews Steakhouse and the Wheelhouse have our stretched fabric acoustic wall panels.Oeler Industries Inc. has over 58 years of combined experience in acoustics, noise and vibration control. We represent several different manufacturers of acoustic products and can address a wide variety of needs. If you have a problem with restaurant noise or no someone who does, we’d like to hear from you. Give us a call at 1-877-406-6473, send us an email at [email protected] or leave a comment below.