Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Restaurants tackle ambient noise

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Restaurants tackle ambient noise https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/bar-406884_640-640x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

Ambient noise is something you don’t usually think about. It’s just “there” – part of the background soundscape, but it’s a lot more important than you might suppose.

Check out a 2015 dining trends survey by Zagat where the No. 2 complaint by restaurant guests was excessive ambient noise. Understandably so, for anyone who’s ever had the regrettable experience of going to a bar or restaurant and not being able to hear what other people at the table are saying, perhaps even resorting to lip reading in order to follow the conversation without annoyingly asking your dinner partners to repeat what they say after every few sentences.

“We have all had the experience of speaking louder to be heard by dining companions who are often sitting right next to us,” said Peter Janis, president of Primacoustic, a division of British Columbia-based Radial Engineering Ltd., which produces high performance acoustic products. “Bottom line is this problem must be fixed or it will affect your bottom line. If acoustics are poor it will only serve to leave a bad taste in the mouth of your patrons, no matter how great the menu.”

How do you solve this problem?

According to Janis, you must first identify what is going acoustically in these spaces.

“When you combine the sound generated by a music system, patrons trying to converse, staff communicating, and even ambient kitchen noise, it builds up and reaches a point where the energy in the room is no longer able to be absorbed or dissipated,” Janis said. “Moreover, design trends have evolved towards very open spaces [with} high ceilings [and] with hard surfaces [of] wood, metal, stone, tile [and] glass, which are very reflective of sound. This wide variety of sound in restaurants bouncing off these reflective surfaces increases the baseline volume causing people to talk louder. The increased noise… causes the music to be turned up, and this cycle is repeated resulting in a high volume, unintelligible mass of sound.”

Janis recommends that restaurant operators use acoustically absorbent materials in their businesses. If they are part of the building’s design, acoustic panels can be strategically located within a ceiling’s structure or on walls. If acoustically absorbent materials are introduced to the restaurant after construction, ceilings and walls can also be used to improve acoustics for between $2,500 and $10,000 depending on the size of the facility.

“When using a high density glass wool panel for instance, the most common choice is to install between 20 to 25 percent wall coverage,” said Janis.  “Alternatively, you can hang panels from the ceiling. This works equally well.  Placement is not critical. It is more about controlling and reducing the excessive energy build-up in a room by hanging panels wherever convenient.”

A panel’s thickness and density dictates its absorption range. The thicker the panel, the lower the frequencies it can absorb. If your restaurant features live performances, adding a mix of three inch thick panels will help control the deeper bass.

Many restaurants are embracing novel solutions for addressing ambient noise.

One example: John Paluska, owner of a Berkeley, Calif., Mexican restaurant and the former manager of the rock band Phish knows a thing or two about sound.

In order to control sound within his restaurant, Paluska teamed up with Meyer Sound, a Berkeley audio engineering company firm, to test a fairly new technology that allows a press of a button to control reverberation levels. Utilizing sound absorption materials, microphones, speakers and a digital processor, the restaurant can become as loud or soft as Paluska wants.

“We’ve used [the system] in live performance venues including Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley, Cirque du Soleil productions, experimental music rooms, [Grateful Dead member] Bob Weir’s recording studio, even churches,” John Meyer, founder and president of Meyer Sound told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But never in a restaurant. This is our beta test.”

But the solution to ambient noise problems in your restaurant need not be so exotic or expensive.

“If you are handy with a screw gun, you can easily fix the acoustics in a restaurant in a matter of hours.” said Janis. “Once done, you can be sure that customers will return… so long as the food and service is up to their expectations!”