It’s a real shame. There are so many restaurants that have beautiful decor, attentive servers, and delicious food, but falter in one big way – being too noisy. According to Zagat’s, too much noise is one of the most common complaints from restaurant guests in the United States. In fact, restaurant sound comes in second only to bad service in that regard. After all, customers go out to eat to enjoy themselves. If they can’t even hear themselves think, how can they possibly embrace the experience you’re trying to give them?
It’s not just about your guests being comfortable — getting a good balance of restaurant sound is important for your servers as well. They need to be able to hear table orders clearly, as well as communicate easily (and discreetly) with their fellow servers. You really don’t want your servers raising their voices in the dining room.
Plus, OSHA (the Occupational Health and Safety Administration) has found that noise-induced hearing loss is a major occupational health concern. Over time, your restaurant sound levels could really hurt your employees’ hearing, not to mention the stress of loud noises could raise servers’ blood pressure throughout the shift.
There are some common culprits that tend to increase noisiness in your restaurant sound:
Closed off space
Walls reverberate sound. When you have small spaces, the walls will create more of an echo. And the more people you have in the space, the more those closed off walls will be a problem.
Loud chairs or tables
Think about how many times something gets placed on a table during one table turn. Or think about how much chairs are scooted back and forth during any one given shift. The clicky-clacky noises of metal or plastic tables and chairs don’t seem like much separately, but together it becomes a problem for restaurant sound levels.
A busy bar
Think about everything that goes into your bartenders and barbacks doing their jobs. From running water in the sink to mixing cocktails to clinking glasses (not to mention taking the drink orders themselves), your bar can get noisy. And that noise can travel to the ears of guests, even at their tables.
Sometimes the very thing we think is a feature of our business can be a flaw, and the perfect example is your restaurant’s music. Having music (whether through a station or a live band) can be a positive for your guests, but not if it’s constantly playing too loud. This is especially true if you’re playing songs with lots of bass, where the beat’s buzzing could end up distracting guests from their own conversations and the enjoyment of their meals.
With that in mind, there are five major ways to combat too much noise and level off your restaurant sound:
1. Install wall panels or acoustically-rated tin ceiling tiles.
Putting in this style of restaurant soundproofing is effective, and there are plenty of aesthetically pleasing designs on the market specifically made for dining rooms. Most guests won’t even realize the panels are there for sound dampening – they’ll just think it’s part of the décor!
2. Make small changes.
If you need to make slight adjustments on a budget, putting up large canvas paintings on the walls or arranging large potted plants around the dining room can help absorb some of your excess restaurant sound. However, you’ll need to make sure that any new decor you add fits your restaurant’s brand. Also, potted plants need to be regularly watered and their pots and leaves need to be dusted. It is also important not to buy fragrant plants that can mess with your guests’ senses and interfere with the taste of your carefully prepared food and drink.
3. Open your windows.
On warmer days with fair weather, you might be able to open your restaurant’s windows. That will help dissipate some of the echo in your dining room, especially if it’s a smaller space. However, opening your dining area to the outdoors could bring a whole other set of problems. Make sure the street noise in your area won’t incur additional noise that adds to your restaurant sound for your customer. Also be sure that the outdoor temperature is pleasant enough for dining.
4. Turn down the music.
This is maybe the least expensive change of them all! You don’t necessarily need to get rid of the music altogether. A little background music can help ensure privacy between tables and add to a pleasant atmosphere. Just make sure it’s being played at a lower setting.
5. Soundproof the kitchen.
If a lot of noise is coming from your kitchen into the front of house, it could be time to put some soundproofing treatments on the door between the two spaces. While the kitchen likely can’t be completely soundproofed (especially with servers going in and out so often), it will still help your diners avoid hearing every clanging pan and every instruction from your cooks down the line.
But as much as too much noise can ruin your atmosphere, so can too much silence. A very quiet dining room (even with people seated in it) can mean server and kitchen noise that’s usually masked by background noise will come into focus.
And even if the kitchen noises aren’t a problem, complete silence while dining out can be isolating and unnerving. Suddenly your guests are uneasy about how they eat and speak, not wanting to be the only people in the room to make a sound. Whether from too much restaurant noise or lack thereof, you don’t want customers paying more attention to the sounds than how your food tastes.
“Some people may not even be conscious of it from a customer perspective of what was it that didn’t quite fit with them?” Eschelle explains. “Because when you’re thinking about a restaurant, it’s ‘What’s it look like? What’s it taste like? What’s it feel like?’ When they’re thinking about food, they may not be thinking about ‘What does it sound like?’”
And that subtle disconnect could put a return visit in doubt for a lot of customers. Strike a happy medium with a comfortable level of background noise to create the perfect ambiance for your restaurant, sound and all.
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