Restaurants Value Quiet Over Noise

Quiet Brings Repeat Customers to Restaurants

A great restaurant provides a retreat, if only for an hour or two, where guests can relax and savor their favorite meals while socializing with friends and family. Customers will return again and again to a restaurant that provides consistently good meals, excellent service, and a pleasant atmosphere.

Let’s face it, the competition for patrons among restaurants is fierce. Only the most vigilant restaurateur will succeed in creating and maintaining a loyal customer base.

Restaurant patrons demand the obvious: great tasting meals and attentive and friendly service. They also expect pleasant surroundings, where they can relax, carry on a conversation and savor their meal without irritating distractions. Smoking, a huge spoiler for restaurant patrons in the past, has been banned in almost every U.S. restaurant. And while it’s easy for most restaurant owners and managers to see to it that diners are not bothered by second hand smoke, the same cannot be said for irritating second-hand noise.

High noise levels in a restaurant can drive business elsewhere, making it imperative for restaurant owners to take measures to minimize unwanted sound throughout their dining areas. Some restaurant owners implement noise reduction strategies during the design phase of their space and install sound deadening material under the drywall, floors and ceilings during construction or renovation. However, not all have built-in sound deadening material in place when they open their doors for business.

Restaurants Value Quiet Over Noise

Restaurants are particularly vulnerable to annoying noise levels due to a combination of acoustic challenges: multiple groups of guests carrying on conversations, often at accelerated volumes, in order to be heard over the din; echo and reverberation from the abundance of reflective surfaces commonly used in restaurant décor and equipment (tables, countertops, kitchen equipment, walls and floors), intensify sound reverberations throughout the establishment.

Restaurant owners need to make noise reduction a top priority if they are to be able to compete with other restaurants for return customers.

Reverberation, which is a primary culprit in a noisy restaurant due to the multitude of solid surfaces, can be minimized dramatically when the proper sound dampening product is put in place. Although soundproofing materials will not entirely eliminate ambient noise, they will absorb excess sounds and reduce the overall decibel level, thus providing a pleasant environment for diners to socialize and relax in relative peace.

Soundproofing panels and material designed to be wall mounted can be custom fitted for use in specific areas.  However, wall panels and acoustical material are often not an option as they may interfere with the restaurant’s décor, or because they require invasive installation methods (tearing out drywall or flooring).

Easy-to-install sound deadening solutions are available and popular for restaurant use. High sound absorbency QuietFiber is a two-inch thick DIY interior noise solution from Acoustiblok that can be cut to fit and simply hot glued underneath the bar, cabinets, countertops, tables, chairs, behind a wall tapestry or curtains. Slide a QuietFiber “pillow” on top of cabinets, or anywhere else that noise is a problem and peaceful surroundings are a must.  Easily cut to size with a serrated knife, QuietFiber can be concealed almost anywhere

Restaurateurs who have identified a noise problem that may be affecting business adversely would do well to consult a reputable company that specializes in troubleshooting and resolving noise problems. A noise consultant will be able to identify all the variables that combine to create a noise problem, and provide options for effective solutions that can be easily implemented.

Remember, they key to building a repeat customer base is to offer an environment that provides maximum comfort and satisfaction to its patrons. When the customers are happy, they come back — the key to a restaurant’s long-term success.

Restaurants Value Quiet Over Noise

Noise Reviews Have Restaurants Looking to Turn Down the Volume

When a New York Times reporter wrote a stunning expose on noise levels in Manhattan businesses last month, folks were in an uproar. Noise pollution is a growing problem, not just in America’s biggest cities but in smaller residential communities as well. The New York Times article measured off-the-charts noise levels in restaurants, gyms, bars, and an assortment of other businesses.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Times reporter Betty Hallock set out on a similar mission, clandestinely measuring noise levels in some L.A. restaurants as customer complaints about restaurant noise has risen, and food critics have taken to mentioning the noise levels in their reviews.

The goal was to answer the question, “Just how noisy is it out there in restaurant land?”

Everyone who has ever stepped foot in a restaurant understands the problem; noise in eateries can ruin even a great meal. No one wants to yell to their dinner companion just to be heard; we just want a nice meal and conversation. That can’t be asking too much, can it?

First, let’s take a look at the structural problems. Restaurants have a lot of hard surfaces – stainless steel, wood, glass, porcelain. There is almost no noise absorption going on anywhere, and exacerbating the problem is the fact that noise – in the form of kitchen activities, serving activities, customers talking, music (if there is any), traffic from outside, doors opening and closing – reverberates off of hard surfaces, turning ordinary noise into crazy obnoxious noise that makes us want to eat fast and leave.

Hallock picked up a decibel Pro sound meter and headed out to dozens of restaurants and bars in the Greater Los Angeles area. In many establishments, she measured decibel readings as high as 90.

A normal conversation will register at 60-65 decibels, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends businesses keep their noise levels under 80 decibels to protect the hearing of staff. As Hallock points out in her article, a decibel reading of 90 is the equivalent of standing next to a loud power lawn mower.

One thing I found particularly interesting about Hallock’s report is her excellent decision to clarify the fact that sound meters read sound intensity, not loudness. Sound intensity measures the pressure of sound waves traveling through the air from the noise source. Loudness is simply the noise we hear, and it’s subjective. What seems too loud to me may not bother my dinner date as much. The issue of perception is significant when it comes to noise, but for now we’ll stick to restaurant clatter.

We already understand that a restaurant’s noise level will vary significantly depending on the day or even the hour of the day. Hallock measured decibel levels of 80 or higher consistently during high traffic hours. To restaurant guests, this translates to an unpleasant dining experience, but for staff, spending eight hours or more in an environment louder than 80 decibels can lead to permanent hearing damage. In fact, WHO recently reported that 80 decibels might be high, that hearing damage can occur in lower decibel ranges.

Restaurants Value Quiet Over Noise

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.

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