Noise is a common complaint among restaurant guests, and numerous studies have shown that a loud environment can make the dining experience less enjoyable. Moreover, guests’ perceptions of flavours might be altered when they eat in a noisy restaurant. Additionally, restaurant staff working in an environment with sound levels greater than 80 dB are at higher risk of hearing loss. However, silent dining is not the solution either. In this article, we will explore how restaurant noise affects the dining experience and provide tips on how to reduce it.
Studies have shown that excessive noise levels are affecting many restaurant guests. The background noise levels found in some restaurants are increasingly being recognised as a concern by restaurant staff, critics, and healthcare professionals alike.
Research indicates that loud noise can have a negative impact on the way guests perceive the food’s flavour and texture. In some laboratory studies, scientists have demonstrated that noise can make food taste less sweet or salty. Noise can also dull the overall flavour of a dish. This means that guests won’t be able to experience a perfectly composed combination of flavours fully in a noisy restaurant.
But it’s not just the guest experience that’s at risk in a restaurant with an uncomfortably loud soundscape. It’s one thing to visit a loud restaurant once in a while, and some guests might even enjoy leaving with the buzz from loud music and fellow diners’ conversations. However, restaurant staff are exposed to the noise for hours at a time. Even if the restaurant team doesn’t mind working in a loud environment, continued exposure to noise can put their health at risk.
When considering health and noise, hearing loss is often the first concern that comes to mind. However, studies have shown that exposure to noise can also lead to chronic stress and health issues related to stress, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Therefore, it’s important to address the issue of excessive noise levels not only for the guests’ comfort but also for the health and well-being of the restaurant staff.
Restaurant soundscapes are complex cacophonies of conversation, dinnerware, kitchen appliances, chairs moving, footsteps, and background music. The combination of these sounds often leads to a noise-polluted environment. A 2018 study of 1,788 restaurants showed that 25% exceeded sound levels of 81 decibels. That’s about the same as the noise inside an airplane.
When we talk about decibels and noise, anything above 70 dB can harm people’s sense of hearing. And, as we have seen, noise can also increase the risk of other health issues. Additionally, many guests prefer to eat at a restaurant where it’s possible to have a conversation without shouting.
If you’re curious about the sound levels in your restaurant, there are various smartphone apps that you can use. These apps aren’t as accurate as professional sound level meters, but they can still provide a good indication of whether your restaurant’s sound levels are too high.
App Store rating 4.7 stars
Google Play rating: 4.1 stars
If you decide that it’s time to reduce the noise in your restaurant, there are many acoustics consultants and sound engineers who can offer to help you find sophisticated solutions. However, the prices for these services are often quite high. Fortunately, there are more budget-friendly ways to protect the ears of your guests and staff. Below, you’ll find some of them.
In a previous article, we discussed the importance of selecting the best music for your restaurant. While music naturally adds more sound, it also plays a crucial role in creating the right atmosphere for your guests. However, regardless of how well-curated your playlist may be, restaurant music should function as a background soundtrack. The volume should be set at a comfortable level, allowing guests to enjoy their meals and engage in conversations.
To ensure even distribution of music throughout your restaurant, it’s a good idea to choose a music system specifically designed for background music. Look for speakers that can be discreetly installed in the ceiling or mounted on the walls. These types of speakers help maintain consistent sound levels throughout the entire restaurant, even when playing music at low volumes.
When guests arrive at your restaurant and move their chairs to visit the bar, go to the bathroom, or make way for others passing behind them, the sound of chair legs scraping on a hard floor can be more noticeable than one might expect. While it may not be as peceptible in a restaurant where various sounds blend together, imagine a single chair being moved in a quiet museum or classroom – chairs get loud! That’s why soundproofing your restaurant chairs can make a significant difference.
Here are a few ways to reduce chair noise in your restaurant:
Concider the chair placement: Arrange chairs strategically to minimise contact and collisions. Provide ample space between chairs and tables to decrease the likelihood of chairs bumping into each other and creating unnecessary noise.
Padding for chair legs: Attach rubber or felt pads to the bottom of the chair legs. These pads will dampen vibrations and minimise the noise produced when chairs are moved or scraped against the floor.
Cushioning: Opt for chairs with thick, padded cushions and upholstery made from noise-absorbing materials. Fabrics like velvet, suede, or textured materials can help absorb sound and reduce noise generated from seating movements.
Running a restaurant that offers a diverse range of beverages often involves the use of blenders, coffee grinders, ice machines, and similar equipment. These machines produce a lot of noise. If your restaurant’s layout allows for flexibility, you can reduce the noise levels by positioning the machines as far away from the dining area as possible.
It’s no secret that a restaurant kitchen can become quite noisy, particularly during busy lunch or dinner rushes. To address this, ensure that the kitchen doors are closed whenever possible, to keep the noise within the kitchen space. If simply closing the doors isn’t enough to create a sound barrier, consider soundproofing the doors with acoustic panels or investing in solid-core doors that absorb more noise.
For restaurants with open kitchens where the noise from the kitchen affects the dining experience, an alternative solution is to install a pane of glass. This allows you to maintain the visual appeal of the open kitchen concept while effectively reducing the sound levels.
As mentioned above, noise can diminish the pleasure of enjoying a good meal in a restaurant. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that silence is the way to go. Some renowned restaurant owners, such as Heston Blumenthal, the mastermind behind The Fat Duck in England, have chosen not to play any music in their restaurants. Blumenthal’s intention is to ensure that guests’ attention is solely focused on the food and the dining experience. While Blumenthal may have a point, this vow of silence is unlikely to be well-received by the majority of restaurant guests.
In the aforementioned study article by Charles Spence, Tim Zagat, co-founder of the dining guide Zagat Restaurant Surveys, is cited. Zagat expresses his thoughts on silent dining as follows: “It’s a double-edged sword,” because if a restaurant is too quiet, “a lot of people feel it’s dead.”
If you’re feeling adventurous, hosting a silent dining event could be an option. There’s a good chance that such an event would attract many curious diners. However, it’s important to note that curiosity is the key word here. Sounds play an important role in the dining experience, and most guests would probably prefer a restaurant that isn’t as quiet as a library.
When guests book a table at a restaurant, it’s because they crave a satisfying meal. However, as they contemplate which restaurant to choose, they will likely also envision a vibrant dining atmosphere. Throughout history, restaurants have been cherished spaces for relishing delicious food in an enjoyable environment, which includes sounds. The crucial factor is that the sound doesn’t overpower the overall experience.
It’s all about striking the right balance and crafting the perfect soundscape for your restaurant. By taking into account the aforementioned studies and implementing some of the solutions, you can take steps to reduce noise in your restaurant and create a more pleasant atmosphere for both your guests and staff.