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 Yelp.com and OpenTable.com 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.
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.
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.