The architecture of the typical restaurant of today does little to contribute to a pleasant acoustic environment. Wooden or tiled floors, veneered wooden furniture and smooth plastered ceilings may lend a sophisticated feel but acoustically, the final effect can be problematic.
Whilst the gentle background hum of voices indicates happy diners and creates a feel-good factor, having to conduct a conversation at the top of your voice in a crowded restaurant can be a real turn-off and risks spoiling the customer experience to the extent that they never return.
The level of sound in a room depends on the finish of the room surfaces and of the objects within it. As soon as a sound is emitted (e.g. a spoken word, the clash of plates), the sound bounces round the room. All of the materials, objects and surface finishes within the room will absorb the sound to an extent, so each time the sound bounces off a surface, a bit more of its energy will be absorbed. Eventually, the sound will have so little energy that it cannot be heard. All of this happens over a very short timescale, generally less than 1-2 seconds for the whole process.
"Imagine throwing a bouncy ball at a floor or wall in a typical modern restaurant – it would fly gleefully around the room for some time! Now imagine throwing that ball in a carpeted room with softer furnishings – the ball would come to a halt much sooner."
This is because soft, porous materials tend to be better absorbers of sound than the hard, shiny materials often favoured as aesthetically desirable in modern restaurant design. In these surroundings, sound will bounce around for longer and take longer to reduce in level. When the restaurant is full, the room will be full of noise from chatter, at a relatively high level. This in turn causes occupants to raise their voices, exacerbating the situation until the environment becomes unpleasant.
At the opposite end of the scale, a restaurant decked out from floor to ceiling with fluffy furnishings and thickly upholstered seats, whilst acoustically preferable, is far from the aesthetic ideal. Furnishings which reduce background noise too much, as well as contributing to a somewhat claustrophobic feel, may also impinge on the individual diner’s privacy.
But there are compromises that can be explored using modern materials. For example, there now exists on the market a vast range of perforated plasterboard products with an acoustic backing, suitable for walls or ceilings, which provide a reasonable acoustic performance whilst emulating the look of traditional plasterboard. These products are available in a virtually endless array of perforation patterns, providing maximum design flexibility.
Recent breakthroughs in technology mean that fabric-covered foam acoustic panels can now be printed with photographs, images and patterns. This enables wall-mounted acoustic treatments to be incorporated into the décor, making a virtue out of a necessity.
Equally important, auricl uses sophisticated acoustic modelling software to assist with design and material specification, allowing the optimum arrangement of tables and surface finishes to be determined before the fit-out works have even begun.
Auralisation also allow designers and clients to actually experience different sound levels through the use of audio demonstrations, so they can decide on the right feel for the venue - be it a buzzy cosmopolitan bar, a haven of new world tranquility or an intimate late night dining spot.
Away from the public eye, other sources of noise also need to be considered. The hub of operations - the restaurant kitchen - requires significant ventilation to extract air to the outside to remove heat and smells. This involves large and potentially noisy fans, which are generally tucked away from the view of restaurant clientele in secluded lightwells or courtyards.
With the increase of restaurants sited in mixed-use developments, usually including large residential and office elements, such external noise may be considered a nuisance, often leading to complaints from other building users. Local authorities often stipulate their noise requirements at the outset of the project and a planning application will frequently be required. This in turn may involve carrying out an independent noise survey. In addition, a detailed acoustic assessment of the fans and any external air conditioning units may also have to be submitted to gain approval.
In a mixed-use development or residential area, noise nuisance from noisy restaurants or outdoor seating areas in evening periods is also a potential risk. As well as imposing restrictions on opening hours, local authorities will often require an independent noise survey (noise impact assessment).
Involving auricl will be worth it - building in certainty and ensuring your restaurant is the success it deserves to be.