Have you ever been to a busy restaurant that was so noisy you could barely hear your friend across the table? From an acoustics standpoint, restaurants are tricky spaces; the hard surfaces of the tables, bar, and floor are carefully designed to match the menu and overall aesthetic, but they can make a quiet Tuesday lunch sound very different from a packed Friday night.
It’s no surprise that crowded, noisy atmospheres result in dissatisfying customer experiences. In a recent Zagat survey, noise level was the second most common complaint of restaurant goers after bad service. Additionally, a Consumer Reports survey of almost 50,000 readers reported that one in every four dining experiences warranted a noise complaint.
Customers aren’t the only victims of sound pollution; the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) monitors volume to protect employees from environments that could cause hearing loss over time. OSHA’s standards include a maximum noise level of 90 decibels per every 8 hours and 95 decibels per every 4 hours. Oxford University experimental psychology professor Charles Spence noted that noise levels in many restaurants hover around 100 decibels.
Recent studies have found that not only do bad acoustics hurt our ears, but they can also affect the way we taste our food. A 2010 study in scientific journal Food Quality and Preference found that participants perceived saltiness and sweetness more strongly when eating with quiet or no background noise, compared to participants who ate the same foods with loud background noise. A 2012 University of Manchester study found that people enjoyed their food more when they also enjoyed the background noise (pleasant music, for example), while participants who ate with 80-decibel white noise in the background reported dulled flavor perception.
We’re learning that existing background noise, and the acoustical products used to counter it, have the power to transform the dining experience. Acoustical experts should be consulted at the start of any restaurant building or remodeling to harness this power. Products like fabric wrapped fiberglass or echo elimination panels can minimize the noisy cocktail party effect we’ve all experienced.
Acoustical Surfaces, Inc. has 35 years of experience in improving surface acoustics. Managing volume can be difficult in a continuously changing environment like a restaurant. At Acoustical Surfaces Inc., we offer a variety of mounted wall panels, silk metal, and ceiling-hung baffles to knock out the unwanted noise and offer a more pleasant experience for your customers and employees.