Controlling Noise Levels in Your Restaurant
When you are deep in the process of creating the perfect restaurant – one that will draw a multitude of repeat customers – you will no doubt place an emphasis on ambience. A restaurant’s ambience can be created through lighting, music, décor, and spacing; but no less important is the noise level. Controlling the noise level in your restaurant is a critical ingredient in your restaurant’s success, no less than the freshness of the fish in your Bouillabaisse or the quality of the cheese in your Eggplant Parmesan. Noise can affect everyone in the restaurant – customers and staff alike – so keeping it under control is a top priority, especially when your restaurant is in the planning stages.
Noise as a Health Hazard
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines noise as a serious health hazard; it can lead to “cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance, and provoke … changes in social behavior.” What you’ll be trying to avoid when you are planning your restaurant’s décor are surfaces and spaces that make sounds bounce and echo, and that cause you and your restaurants guests to have to shout to be heard. Noise pollution in general, and noise levels in restaurants in particular, has become such a major issue that
restaurant reviews – from both amateur and professional critics – frequently include comments about the noise factor, with too-high levels of noise being a common complaint in restaurant surveys.
Research indicates that long or repeated exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can cause noise-related hearing loss or ringing in the ears. A typical conversation between restaurant patrons seated around the same table averages about 60 decibels; however, noise levels at the average restaurant are at least 80 decibels. This makes conversation difficult, puts diners’ hearing at risk, and places an unhealthy strain on customers’ voices.
High Noise Levels are Dangerous for Employees
Noise levels pose a risk for your restaurant employees as well. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), noise-induced hearing loss has been one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States for more than 25 years. When employee noise exposure is at least 85 decibels over the course of an eight-hour shift, OSHA requires employers to implement a hearing conservation program, whereby employees’ hearing is monitored, tested, and tracked for potential hearing loss, and employers are instructed to provide hearing protection, such as earplugs. However, if staff members in a restaurant are exposed to this level of noise, something is seriously wrong.
Your Customers and Your Business Will Suffer from High Noise Levels
Noise ranks as one of the most irritating problems encountered while dining out. The National Restaurant Association says that excess noise is disruptive and jarring, and that it can “adversely affect the carefully planned ambience of your operation.” Reducing unwanted noise is a matter of decreasing certain background sounds, known as ambient noise, such as noises that come from conversations, the air-conditioning system, electrical equipment, or music. Keeping the noise level in your restaurant at a level below or at around 65 decibels is what you’re aiming for. So here are a few tips to accomplish this not-impossible goal.
Hearing-Friendly Surfaces Make a Difference
Hard surfaces, such as steel and marble, may create the interior design that you are looking for in your restaurant’s décor – but they come with a price; ditto for hard flooring like wood or ceramic tile. With noise control, hard surfaces should be balanced with softer surfaces. If, for instance, granite or wood abound in the actual dining area, consider installing carpeting in other high-traffic areas to reduce footstep noises outside the restrooms or in the waiting area. Alternatively, if you have a hard floor like the currently popular and omnipresent parquet, install a soft ceiling with acoustical tiles, foam baffles (like you see in speakers), or cloth hanging from above.
Windows and Table Placements Also Affect Noise Levels
Windows are a lovely design element but, when it comes to noise levels, it’s important to note that glass reflects sound. If you don’t want to dispense with your windows altogether, you can hang textured wall coverings to dampen the noise level, or put up window treatments such as valances and curtains. In the very least, ensure that your windows are soundproofed to block out noise coming from cars, airplanes, and trains.
Tables that are placed too close together are also a hindrance to normal-level conversations. However, placing a sound-absorbing material, such as foam or carpet remnants under your restaurant’s chairs, could be a useful sound-dampening trick. Area rugs and tablecloths can also be helpful, as can a solution such as putting rubber caps on chair legs: These keep the chair from scratching the floor, thereby cutting out one more annoying sound that one can do without in a restaurant.
Smart Placement of Machinery Can Reduce Noise Levels
Electrical equipment that emits constant noises, such as ice machines or soda machines with compressors that go on and off, should be strategically placed away from the main dining area to minimize the cumulative effect of sound. Alternatively, you can install machines with roof-mounted condensers to soften the sound. Make sure that the maintenance of your heating and air conditioning equipment are a top priority so that it works quietly, and consider sound absorbers to lessen the sounds. This background noise may seem like a non-intrusive, barely noticeable whisper when taken alone, but in a crowded conversation-filled space, the constant buzz or hum of a machine can be like static, unbearable and headache inducing.
Your commercial kitchen may also generate a lot of noise; but it is the rare customer that wants to be exposed to this type of clamor. Keep the inevitable din of your kitchen away from your guests by ensuring that the kitchen doors are soundproofed. To be even more certain that the ruckus and commotion of the kitchen isn’t reaching your guests’ ears, place partitions and barriers between the dining area and the food-prep area to break up the virtual corridors and pathways of loud sound.
With Music, “Background” is the Operative Word
Background music that moves into the forefront is not just a minor annoyance; it can seriously inhibit relaxed conversation and pleasant dining. Unless you are running a cabaret or a theater club, your patrons will want to enjoy the company of others, and if your music is too loud, they can’t. On the other hand, if you’re looking for quick table turnover – like during busy lunch hours – louder, quicker-tempo music will keep conversation at a minimum and turnover at a maximum. Music with a slower rhythm and lower volume is more conducive to keeping customers in their seats, and enjoying the company of their fellow diners, along with their food.
Low Sound Levels Yields Higher Profits for Your Restaurant
Today, with decibels and sound levels an integral part of restaurant reviews, you will want to focus on noise control. This will benefit your staff and keep your customers happy and able to focus on your phenomenal dishes. A highly rated restaurant will be the one in which your wait staff isn’t yelling and your clients aren’t straining to be heard. Take this into consideration when planning your restaurant and you won’t have to invest in noise control later on – when the changes are likely to be more expensive.