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​It’s official. “Too much noise” is now customers’ single most-hated restaurant problem, ahead of bad service, bad food, and high prices. While open kitchens, cranked-up music-playback systems, and raucous diners certainly have played a part in amplifying this business-killing monster, many complaints were aimed squarely – and rightly — at restaurants’ acoustics. Hard sound-reflective surfaces like stone, brick, and glass might look terrific to an acoustically-unaware interior designer, but it’s a complete aural mess.

The result is often an age-layering of restaurant types, separating younger diners from anyone hoping to hear the conversation of their companions. While not universal, loud noise can often mask poor quality, as restaurants try to increase the excitement of “the dining experience” for less-experienced customers. And an underlying, far more dangerous result is that the staff of very loud restaurants can suffer irreparable hearing loss – is OSHA listening?

The problem has not gone unreported. In January, Zagat wrote: “What really bugs people when it comes to dining out? (Cue the latest Portlandia parody). Our survey data revealed that noise was the most irksome at 24% followed by service (23%), crowds (15%), high prices (12%) and parking (10%).”

Consumer Reports reported on the issue back in 2016: “For our survey respondents, the biggest bugaboo was noise—loud customers and blaring music. Second-rate service was another key annoyance, and of course people complained about food that was cold, burnt, over- or under-seasoned, or unappealing.”

As more unhappy diners avoid overly-loud spaces, restaurant owners have started asking designers to solve the problem. But not to solve it too much. Similar to Las Vegas casinos’ noisy environments, some level of sound chaos seems to help convey that hard-to-define “excitement factor.” Achieving “friendly” ambient sound levels somewhere between a library and a rock concert should be an obvious goal. This is where Acoustical Surfaces comes in.

Acoustically treating a room is commonplace for critical-listening spaces like recording studios, high-end audio rooms, and concert halls, and the tools developed for those applications are readily available to restaurant architects and designers. Three of the best restaurant noise treatments include a tried-and-true product, a newly-researched technology, and an ecologically-friendly designer favorite.

One of the most-often applied products for absorbing sound is the fabric-wrapped fiberglass panel mounted on wall and ceiling surfaces. This solution is affordable, easy to install, and can be ordered in any combination of hundreds of fabric colors. You’ll see these panels in applications ranging from cinemas to industrial plants, and they work well to reduce reflected sound energy.

How can a flat piece of aluminum absorb sound? The recent cutting-edge broadband sound absorber technology is not like fiber-based acoustical ceiling tiles. It’s a micro-perforated aluminum panel that needs no fiber backing, because the tiny panel holes reduce sound energy. These Silk Metal™ ceiling tiles are easily installed in drop-ceiling grids and can be steam-cleaned, a real advantage in restaurants and bars where there’s a need to reduce the noise created in open kitchen and grille areas. Silk Metal panels look like elegant silk fabric and are available in black, white, anodized colors, and custom print images. They absorb as much or more sound than similar products, with as little as a 4” airspace above the tiles.

An old standard for absorbing sound reflections in gymnasiums and warehouses, cementitious wood-fiber panels have been increasingly showing up in restaurants and bars. These panel types were brought into the high-end design world due to tighter manufacturing tolerances and ecological practices. Affordable, easily painted and installed, Envirocoustic™ Wood Wool has only three manufacturing ingredients – wood fibers, Portland cement, and water. Available in stock panel sizes, custom shapes (Hexagons are also stock), and mild-to-wild paint choices, Wood Wool lets designers excite diners with color and placement while reducing sound levels.

Will the restaurant loudness wars subside anytime soon? One can hope, but I do know that great-looking advanced acoustical technology is now readily available — as is the sound system volume knob, which can easily be turned down. It seems the only remaining constraints are awareness of the problem and knowledge of the acoustical remedies. Architects and designers, we can help! Good food – and good design - doesn’t need to be that loud.

Acoustical Surfaces offers everything you need for noise control, soundproofing and acoustical products used in commercial, industrial, educational, houses of worship, pro audio, OEM, home theater and other residential applications.

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