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Restaurants need to put acoustics back on the menu

By Eline Lhoest
August 06, 2020

As restaurants cautiously reopen for business and the world rediscovers the joy of eating out, an age-old problem is making diners lose their appetite — noise.

According to the 13,000 diners that voted in the annual Zagat survey of restaurant trends in the US, noise was the biggest annoyance when eating out, while an Action on Hearing Loss Charity report found that on at least one occasion 80% of visitors to restaurants, cafés and bars in the UK had left early due to excessive noise.

As many restaurants struggle with COVID-19 issues such as table distancing and surface cleanliness — in addition to lower incomes — some governments are even recommending lower music volumes to prevent shouting and the risk of air droplets.

Maro Puljizević, Knauf Insulation’s Acoustics Project Manager at the company’s Core Research and Development Department, says restaurant noise levels have always been a major consideration. “Obviously the main reason people go out to eat is to enjoy the company and conversation of friends and family, if you can’t hear what’s being said, that takes away a lot of the pleasure.”

‘Nightmare for the ears’

So how did we end up with such noisy restaurants? Maro believes that contemporary trends for minimalist exposed interiors such as brick, concrete or marble as well as open kitchens have increased the volume, while soft sound-absorbing furnishings, table linen and carpets have all fallen out of fashion.

Some commentators have described this new generation of restaurant design as “a feast for the eyes but a nightmare for the ears”; others have described the design trend as ageist, artificially contributing to a youthful buzz that discourages a noise-sensitive older clientele, while some reviewers (carrying decibel monitors with them) believe restaurants have turned up the noise to encourage faster turnover.

One thing is certain, a noisy restaurant contributes to what is known as the Lombard Effect when speakers “unconsciously increase the loudness level of their speech in the presence of background noise in order to be understood”. In other words, noisy restaurants just get noisier. No wonder one enterprising company has even launched a location app that finds the quietest restaurant in your neighbourhood.

‘Deafening noise’

“Acoustics need to be factored into interiors from the start but often the design of an outlet is given the priority at the beginning of a project. Often restaurants are then forced to reassess their acoustics after they have opened, which is hugely disruptive,” he says.

“Configuring tables close to constantly opening and closing restaurant front doors, busy bars or swinging kitchen doors are fundamental mistakes, as is a high percentage of sound-reflective surfaces such as marble floors or mirrored walls without consideration for sound absorbing materials,” says the specialist.

“Acoustic separation between restaurants and residential areas is regulated in most countries but the acoustic environment of restaurants is unregulated and at the architect’s discretion. If acoustics are not factored into the design, noises inside and outside the restaurant can easily become deafening.”

The obvious solution to tackling excessive restaurant noise is taking a holistic approach to acoustics. Knauf Insulation offers solutions that can be incorporated into every design aspect from baffles and ceiling tiles (to protect the aural health of residents above) to wall and ceiling insulation, to separators to divide kitchens from eating areas and technical solutions for ducts, pipes, heating or cooling systems.

“Eating out is something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured,” says Maro. “You want to remember a restaurant for giving you a positive experience, not giving you earache.”

 

Pictures above and below: Heraklith® Wood Wool provides an ideal ambience and acoustic comfort for the award-winning entertainment venue Lock Stock & Barrel and prestigious Steak House in Rixos Premium Dubai located in the heart of Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Residence

Photography: Hyku D Photography