Building the Ideal Restaurant Atmosphere: Sound

Push Operations
December 10, 2020

According to a 2018 Zagat study, noise is the number one pet peeve of customers. Not the service, the prices, or the parking. Noise.

Restaurants are busy environments. Things are all happening at once: people talking, music playing, dishes and utensils clanging, the occasional sizzle from a frying pan, and 110 other things. Sounds have the potential to build and build and noise levels that are too loud don't allow guests to communicate with each other, let alone your staff. In turn, this affects their dining experience. Your front-of-house could be going above and beyond for tables in their section, but they shouldn't have to yell across the table to ask guests how they're doing.

However, on the other end of the spectrum is a quiet restaurant. Noise levels that are too quiet make things awkward for guests as they can hear everything you say ... and you can hear everything they say. Occasions where friends wish dine out to catch up,  eating in complete silence isn't the ideal experience. When it comes to a restaurant's noise level, its key to have a balance of the right amount of hustle and bustle and music to create a more private, energetic, and fun atmosphere. It’s all about balance. Here’s 4 tips on how to create the perfect sound system for your restaurant.

1. Build for It

Rather than trying to fit your environment for sound after construction, build with sound quality in mind. The result is better if you plan for it. A room with a poor acoustic foundation is hard to help.

Quick Tips:

  • Avoid parallel walls
  • Install acoustic panels on walls and ceilings to help absorb sound
  • Build a ceiling with at least two layers of plasterboard
  • Create distance between the kitchen and the main dining area

2. Decorate Deliberately

Minimalism is a growing design trend. Sleek, hard surfaces like brick, stone, wood, metal, create a nice visual experience, but are awful for sound levels. Hard surfaces reflect the sound, whereas soft surfaces absorb it. To help your restaurant quiet down, try to mix fabric surfaces into your design elements.

Quick Tips:

  • Carpet floors for high trafficked areas
  • Hang curtains on the windows
  • Put rubber caps on chair legs
  • Apply textural acoustic spray to your walls and ceilings

3. Quiet the Kitchen

The busiest room in the business is the kitchen. It has a lot of moving parts: staff and appliances included. It’s where the magic happens and where work gets done. Before making significant changes, consult your staff and brainstorm ways to minimize the sound while still maintaining their productivity in their work space.

Quick Tips:

  • Distance machines (coffee, ice, soda, etc.) and side-stations/self-service stations from the main dining area
  • Create a sign reminding the staff to keep their voice levels in mind
  • Maintain equipment to avoid noisy breaks or kinks
  • Soundproof the area with sealants or simple partitions

4. Fight Noise with Music

Music has power; it’s not a secret that music affects mood. Choosing the right background music can boost the mood of both customers and staff, cause customers take longer to eat, or make customers increase their spending (and your revenue). The right music—tempo, genre, and volume—can not only affect the mood, but the behavior of customers.

Quick Tips:

  • Set a volume level that balances creating a mood and allowing customers to talk without having to raise their voices
  • Level the volume levels across songs on the playlist to avoid sudden bursts and lags in the ambiance
  • Invest a good sound system with an ample amount of speakers dispersed throughout the restaurant

So, how is your restaurant performing?

The ideal sound level for normal conversations is between 58 - 65 dB. The loudest your restaurant should be is 85 dB. If you're not sure where your sound level lies, look into purchasing or renting a sound level meter to measure your noise level.

You can also determine if you’re succeeding on the sound-front simply by observing your customers. Are they leaning closely together each time they say something? Whispering for fear of being overheard? Reacting to sounds coming from the kitchen? Watch your customers, talk to your staff, and adjust where needed.

Finding the right balance of sound for your restaurant is extremely important when building the perfect atmosphere. People eat out to have fun, try new things, and socialize with friends. If they can’t talk, they won’t be happy.