The growing importance of restaurant acoustics

Restaurant Acoustics
SonaSpray fcx acoustic plaster throughout HIDE Restaurant in London - Credit to Oscar Acoustics - Lusted Green Architects and Andrew Meredith photography

Image credit: HIDE Restaurant, London. Oscar Acoustics – Lusted Green Architects and Andrew Meredith photography

The hospitality sector became one of the biggest casualties of Covid-19, but thankfully a return to normality is now within sight. With so many restaurants unable to open their doors, diners turned to takeaways to get their dining out ‘fix’, but I don’t believe for one second that the UK has lost its appetite for restaurant-quality food and service. The reality is that diners have been starved of one of the most crucial aspects of a great dining experience – the atmosphere and ambience of a restaurant setting. Restaurants don’t always get the ambience right though. A loud and uncomfortable space can make or break a great dining experience, no matter how delicious the food.

With ‘Freedom Day’ (July 19th) now confirmed, restaurant owners, their staff and customers are excited, and perhaps a little anxious at the idea of Covid safety measures being lifted completely. In preparation, hospitality venues should be doing all they can to revaluate their current space to ensure as smooth a transition as possible, particularly when it comes to sound levels and noise control. Left unchecked, crowds of guests, busy waiting staff and the chiming of cutlery can become deafening – putting diners on edge.   

Too stressful? 

But it isn’t just customers that feel the strain of a noisy environment. Employees can feel the impact too.

Our Oscar Acoustics research found that 30% of UK workers feel stressed because of noise and that 19% have poor sleep as a result. Exposure to noise levels above 70 and 80 decibels can also cause hearing loss over time. For restaurant staff working unsociable hours in cacophonous surroundings, this can present significant risks to their health. Staff shortages and retention are also set to play a major part in the successful re-opening of hospitality businesses – and it could pay dividends to have acoustic solutions that help reduce unnecessary stress to workers. 

Turning down the volume 

Excess noise levels are one of the most common restaurant complaints and the battle for a quieter restaurant has become somewhat of a sticking point for some critics. According to Action on Hearing Loss, 79% of people have experienced difficulty holding a conversation while eating out, while 91% said they would not return to venues where noise levels were too high. These stats confirm the scale of the problem with restaurant acoustics. 

Audiologists state that the ideal ambient volume for a comfortable conversation is 55 to 65 dB but when sound passes the 70 dB threshold (the equivalent to the sound of a moving truck), it becomes difficult to maintain a conversation. Based on their findings, some restaurants have even recorded noise levels as high as 95 dB or louder – the same as a jet plane taking off a mere 305 metres away. 

While some diners may have been willing to put up with that level of noise pre-pandemic, restaurant owners will need to be mindful that many returning customers will be unaccustomed to overtly loud, public settings. What’s more, acoustics can also play a major role in ensuring proper social distancing measures. With the correct restaurant acoustics solution in place, both staff and customers can be easily heard, so there’s no need to shout (even through masks), or get too close, making it a more hygienic approach for everyone involved.  

Taking noise off the menu 

Thankfully, there are a myriad of options available to those looking to turn down the volume within their establishment and with a greater focus on restaurant acoustics than ever before, now is the time to reassess sound levels.

It’s often the case that hard, flat surfaces are the menace in terms of noise reverberation, causing echoes and allowing sound to travel. Acoustics sprays and plasters that absorb sound energy instead of reflecting it can help control overall noise levels to create a calmer atmosphere. Importantly, they also allow for greater clarity to speech and music, allowing everyone to be heard. Their seamless and decorative finish enables owners to achieve excellent restaurant acoustics without compromising on design. 

Available in a range of finishes from exceptionally smooth to flat, lightly textured surfaces, a good quality acoustic spray can be applied to nearly all substrates, be it wood, steel sheet or concrete, making it a highly versatile option for modern hospitality interiors. What’s more, installation is quick and easy and requires very little in terms of upkeep. It’s also a good idea to look out for fire certifications. Some of the best acoustic spray products on the market will be A2-s1, d0 and Class 0 fire rated to BS476. It’s a solution that some of the UK’s top restaurants use with great success, such as The Ivy, Dishoom, HIDE and Ottolenghi’s range of restaurants, to name but a few. 

Many restaurants are also installing ‘infinity knife edge’ trims for dramatic transitions between ceiling heights, elegant, recessed lighting channels, perfect corners and a seamless slimline ceiling finish. These hide bulky ceiling constructions and minimise unwanted shadows and reflections. Look out for razor edge trims that can be used with both conventional and acoustic plasters to ensure your restaurant sounds as good as it looks. 

Invest in restaurant acoustics now

With restrictions due to lift for bars and restaurants in some parts of the UK, businesses are set to get back on track. If the hospitality sector is wise, it will think carefully about the spaces in which it welcomes returning customers. Investing in acoustic comfort shows that customer and staff wellbeing is front of mind. Diners who enjoy a pleasant dining experience will recommend the venue, and keep coming back for more, helping to return the establishment to its former glory.