Hallock recorded “noise snapshots” taken from some of L.A.’s worst offenders in the restaurant noise department. This can’t be good for business.
1. Bottega Louie, Downtown Los Angeles, 8 p.m. Sunday. Decibel reading: 87
This is a10,000 square foot restaurant with an open, stainless steel kitchen, soaring 20-foot ceilings, a marble-tiled floor and 20,000 feet of brass millwork. Hard surface hell when you’re talking noise. The restaurant had installed sound-absorbing material under chairs and banquettes, but by 7:30 p.m. Sunday the clamor of dishes, kitchen activities, and hundreds of guests talking took the decibel meter to 87. “But it sounds even louder,” Hallock writes.
Hallock’s sound equivalent: Heavy traffic
2. Laurel Hardware, West Hollywood, 8:38 p.m. Saturday. Decibel reading: 88.3
Music cranked, patrons “out for a cocktail-fueled good time.” With a packed house of guests in various stages of inebriation, Hallock says the noise was “bouncing off the floor-to-ceiling windows and the bar’s mirrored and metal-paneled walls.”
It’s hard to believe that these design elements were chosen for a restaurant, but they were. No one was considering the possibility of gentle conversation over a laid back meal, I guess.
Hallock’s sound equivalent: A whirring blender
So, you get the picture. One by one, Hallock narrows down the noise levels of so many L.A. restaurants with a one- or two-word sound analogy: “power drill,” “lawn mower,” “alarm clock one foot away.”
In June, Los Angeles Times Reporter Tiffany Hsu also wrote an article on noise in restaurants, a closer look at the volatile combination of hard surfaces, kitchens, loud music and patrons who like to be heard.
“It’s all amplified by cavernous ceilings, spartan walls and bare floors,” Tsu points out about one particularly noisy restaurant. In fact, she and Hallock performed noise reviews on a few of the same restaurants, and both came to similar conclusions: noise makes dining unpleasant.
Noise also makes for unhealthy working conditions for staff.
Yelp, which publishes user reviews and recommendations of top restaurants now includes noise levels in its reviews. And Yelp is not alone, as the practice of including noise ratings in restaurant reviews is catching on quickly.
Zagat, the international restaurant review guide, lists noise as the second highest source of complaints among restaurant goers, with lousy service being number one. The increased awareness of noise pollution and noise in hard surface venues like restaurants is the cause for some changes in restaurant acoustical design. Newer noise absorption and noise deadening materials are far more effective than old solutions involving curtains and popcorn ceilings (ugh!) And restaurant owners are taking heed and installing new soundproofing products that actually work without drastically altering the design aesthetic.
One restaurant owner in Downtown Los Angeles installed sound abatement material throughout his restaurant, and he said the restaurant’s noise levels went from “unbearable” to “It has worked wonders.”
The majority of customers, Hsu points out, want peace and quiet when they eat out, especially older customers and professionals.
And although many younger people told Hsu that they enjoy noisy, busy restaurants, the consensus is that most of the younger diners would be happy with quieter eatery options too.
The problem with restaurant noise is almost always anchored in the interior design. Cavernous hard spaces do not make for gentle dining experiences. Thankfully, noise absorbing and soundproofing solutions exist today that work to alleviate the sound without changing the design aesthetic.