Do You Want Earplugs with Your Soup?
The Importance of Acoustics in Restaurants

When designing a restaurant, the needs of the end user are at the forefront of the design process. What kind of environment do you want the diner to experience? Perhaps it's a soothing atmosphere with gentle water features, an upbeat, sleek setting of a contemporary restaurant or a flavorful ambiance of a desert-landscaped southwest café - the options are as endless as the industry's collective creativity, but each location shares a common concern: acoustics. Depending on the design concept, a certain noise level could be desirable. In reality, you can create a vivacious, active atmosphere using acoustic products that meet your aesthetic needs without putting the end users at risk.

The average noise level of a typical restaurant during a dining rush is 80 dB (some reach as much as 110 dB). That's the equivalent of a road construction site or a lawnmower! At this level, noise may not be painful, but it CAN wear away at hearing over an extended period of time. The slow erosion of hearing can be likened to tooth decay…it doesn't necessarily hurt, but the damage is quickly evident.

Think about the last time you dined at your favorite restaurant. Could you easily hear the conversation at your table? Were you distracted by kitchen noise or the buzz of the patrons around you? When the excessive noise overshadows the dining experience, do you ever think to yourself, "Who designed this place?"

There are necessary acoustic considerations in the design phase of a restaurant:
  • Choose your materials early. You don't have to compromise the aesthetics of your project. You can have any look you desire with acoustic products - metal, wood, mirrored, plaster, stone, tile, drywall. Waiting until after construction to "fix" acoustic problems drastically limits your options.
  • Consider the implications of your structural design. If you have a domed ceiling, are you specifying proper absorption to avoid distracting reverberation and reflections? If your design includes a very open dining area, do you add absorptive components to reduce the chance of a potentially loud environment?
  • General space planning is essential. Where is the bar? Where is the restroom? Where is the kitchen? Are they properly isolated to prevent excessive noise? Do the tables and booths have enough space between them?
  • Excessively loud restaurants are at risk of OSHA violations. Technically, these restaurants must require their employees to wear hearing protection. If your waiter or waitress were wearing earplugs, how safe would you feel as a patron?
Don't be blind-sided by acoustic problems after construction. Following these few simple steps in the design phase will pay off in the long run. Chances are, your client will not be disappointed with poor acoustics, your reputation as a competent and responsible designer will not be tarnished and diners will notice the ambiance, not the noise.

This article was first published in numerous IIDA Newsletters.

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