How to Control Noise Level in the Cafeteria

Cafeterias have some of the highest noise levels at schools, hospitals, and other facilities where people gather for meals. In fact, school cafeterias, in particular, can get as loud as 100 A-weighted decibels. That’s just about the noise level of a lawnmower or tractor.

If you’ve ever visited a busy cafeteria and noticed you could barely hear what someone was saying just a few feet away, this probably doesn’t surprise you. But it does beg the question, what’s the cause of all this loud noise?

It’s not just multiple conversations happening at the same time—it’s also the simultaneous reverberation and echoes that make these conversations even louder. Fortunately, if you’re wondering how to control noise levels in the cafeteria at your school or facility, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll explore sound control in buildings and the factors that impact cafeteria noise, the effects of these loud sound levels, and several ways to keep them at bay.

What Impacts Cafeteria Noise?

To understand what impacts cafeteria noise, you need first to understand the physics of how sound works in large spaces like cafeterias.

The simple explanation is this: As sound travels, it hits surfaces and is either reflected, absorbed, or dampened, depending on the structure of the surface. For instance:

  • Hard surfaces, like concrete, reflect sound
  • Soft surfaces, like foam, dampen and absorb sound

Because cafeterias typically feature hard, flat walls and other hard, flat surfaces (like tables for eating), sound waves that travel within cafeterias are reflected off those surfaces. This reflection of sound amplifies the sound by causing it to reverberate and echo.

Most cafeterias are also constructed with high ceilings, increasing the distance that sound can travel across the room and become amplified. Couple this with the fact that school cafeterias, in particular, are filled with raucous conversation, and you can start to see why cafeterias can become as loud as a tractor.

Without materials like sound absorbers, diffusers, and blockers, the sound in a cafeteria isn’t controlled, meaning the noise level can become extremely loud and have a negative impact on individuals within the cafeteria—as well as individuals outside of it. Learn more about how to block sound between rooms.

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The Effects of Cafeteria Noise

What are some of the negative effects cafeteria noise can have on students, diners, and staff?

Perhaps most significantly, repeated exposure to noise levels as high as 100 decibels can impact hearing, possibly damage eardrums, and increase the chances of hearing loss. Think back to our tractor comparison. Now, imagine being exposed to that level of noise every weekday during your lunch break without ear protection. It’s not only annoying, but it’s also physically damaging.

At schools in particular, cafeteria noise can be disruptive to lessons and other activities happening inside the building, even if those activities aren’t happening in the cafeteria. This is because the sound waves within the cafeteria can travel outside of the cafeteria if the room isn’t probably outfitted with materials that can:

  • Absorb or dampen the sound
  • Block the sound from escaping

This means that students in nearby classrooms can easily become distracted by any noise that escapes the cafeteria. And this noise is even more pronounced if your cafeteria doors are usually left open.

Although cafeterias in facilities like hospitals are less likely to be as loud as in schools (given the lack of noisy students), sound level issues can still occur. For instance, if a cafeteria in a hospital is close to doctors’ offices and doesn’t feature sound-absorbing or soundproofing materials, meal times might be disruptive for doctors, patients, and other hospital staff members trying to work.

6 Ways to Control Cafeteria Noise

Before exploring different ways to control cafeteria noise, let’s define two fundamental principles of controlling noise in general (which we briefly touched on above):

  • Soundproofing – Soundproofing means using specific materials to block sound and stop it from traveling to other areas.
  • Sound absorbing – Sound absorbing means using specific sound absorbing materials to control the noise levels of a room by dampening the sound.

With this information, let’s dive into the six best ways to control cafeteria noise.

#1 Install Echo Eliminator Panels

Material like acoustical cotton is excellent at insulating large rooms like cafeterias. Specifically, Echo Eliminator, a cost-effective sound-absorbing material, performs highly as an acoustical panel for various noise control applications.

Our Echo Eliminator Ceiling and Wall Panels can accommodate cafeteria spaces of any size, whether at schools, offices, hospitals, or community centers. They’re also easy to install and Class A fire rated, making them excellent for extensive public use.

#2 Use Cellulose Panels

Cellulose-based material is also a great choice for both soundproofing and sound-absorbing applications because it’s made from foam. By installing cellulose-based acoustical and thermal panels, you can absorb the sound within your cafeteria and prevent it from escaping to other rooms in the building.

These panels also have high Sound Transmission Class (STC) and Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) ratings, meaning they rank highly in sound absorbing and soundproofing.

Besides their excellent acoustic properties, cellulose insulation panels are environmentally friendly, free of harmful additives (like petroleum), and mold resistant, making them well-suited for long-term use in cafeterias at schools, hospitals, and workplaces alike.

#3 Try Wood Wool Acoustical Panels

Wood wool acoustic panels are another excellent option for controlling excessive noise in cafeterias, as they absorb sound to reduce echo and reverberation. They’re also:

  • Low-cost
  • Eco-friendly
  • Easy to install
  • Available in a variety of colors (so you can transform the aesthetic of your cafeteria, too)

#4 Outfit Your Space with Sound Silencer Acoustical Panels

Our Sound Silencer acoustical sound panels are made from Rigid Porous ARPRO Acoustical (P.E.P.P.), a Class A fire-rated material with high STC and NRC rankings. In cafeterias, these sound absorbing panels can be placed directly on wall or ceiling surfaces to effectively absorb sound to keep noise levels under control.

The material used to make Sound Silencer panels is also lightweight, cleanable, non-fibrous, non-abrasive, and resistant to moisture, bacteria, and fungi, making it perfect for sound-absorbing applications in school cafeterias in particular.

#5 Absorb Sound with Polyester Acoustical Panels and Tiles

Made from polyester fabric, Poly Max Acoustical Wall and Ceiling Panels deliver high-performance sound absorption and noise reduction for cafeterias of all kinds. Like other acoustical panels offered by Acoustical Surfaces, these panels have a high NRC rating.

Key safety features include:

  • Binding agent-free
  • Irritant-free
  • Impact resistant
  • Low VOC emissions
  • Class A fire-rated

Poly Max acoustical ceiling tiles are also made from 100% polyester and limit echo and reverberation effects in large spaces like cafeterias. Like their counterpart wall panels, these drop-in ceiling tiles are designed to achieve optimal sound absorption while maintaining a great aesthetic.

#6 Renovate with Soundproofing Drywall

Panels are ideal for fast and easy soundproofing and sound-absorbing applications. However, if you’re looking to take on a full-scale cafeteria renovation project over the summer while school is out of session, consider installing soundproofing drywall.

Materials like SoundBreak XP® Gypsum Board can help stop noise from escaping your cafeteria and traveling to surrounding rooms. This drywall offers robust acoustical control, as it’s made with high-density, sound-damping gypsum and a layer of viscoelastic damping polymer.

Gypsum board is also well-suited for school cafeterias because it’s mold- and moisture-resistant.

The Benefits of Controlling Cafeteria Noise

Now that you’re equipped with a list of materials to help you control noise in your cafeteria, you may wonder if it’s worth the investment.

To help answer that question, let’s discuss the benefits of controlling cafeteria noise:

  • Minimize hearing issues – As stated earlier, prolonged exposure to loud noises (like those heard in a busy school cafeteria) can increase the risk of hearing issues. Installing materials that effectively absorb sound in cafeterias can reduce the likelihood of these noise-related issues and keep students safe from hearing impairment.
  • Improve sound quality and focus – One of the reasons school cafeterias are so loud is that reverberation makes it hard to hear. Instinctively, students will speak much louder, creating a domino effect that exacerbates the sound. With sound-absorbing materials, you can improve the sound quality of your cafeteria so that students don’t have to shout over each other. In turn, students in nearby classrooms may be able to focus better without the distraction of this external noise.
  • Reduce stress – For teachers and other educators, the noises from a loud cafeteria can actually increase stress levels. Hence, soundproofing and sound-absorbing solutions can help reduce cafeteria noise and lower stress for teachers, staff, and students alike.

If these benefits have you considering a renovation project—full-scale or otherwise—for your school’s cafeteria, summer’s a great time to do it. Not only are students on break, but the weather is also conducive to installing wall and ceiling panels or renovating with soundproofing drywall.

Achieve Expert Noise Control with Help from Acoustical Surfaces

When you’re ready to take control of the noise level in your cafeteria, trust the experts at Acoustical Surfaces to help you find the right soundproofing or sound-absorbing solutions. We’ve specialized in noise, sound, and vibration control for over 35 years, offering over 400 noise control products and materials.

Contact us to start planning your cafeteria renovation project today.



  1. Noisy Planet. Students Ask “How Loud Is Too Loud?” in the Cafeteria.
  2. USDA. When Nudging in the Lunch Line Might Be a Good Thing.


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