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How to Reduce Restaurant Noise

How to Reduce Restaurant Noise

How to Reduce Restaurant Noise

A normal night out to eat might be one of the things we all miss most about pre-COVID life. But what I definitely don’t miss is being in over-crowded restaurants where I have to yell across the table so the people I’m with can hear me. Restaurants are put in a very difficult position of wanting to provide patrons with an intimate and comfortable space to dine, while also needing to maximize the number of diners per square foot to turn a profit. Most owners ignore a noise problem as an unavoidable byproduct of having a restaurant, but if you’re here… you want better. We’re here to tell you that it is in fact possible to find a compromise between a packed house, and a noisy room. While you won’t be able to get your restaurant quiet enough to hear a pin drop (who would want that anyway?), we can help you make sure your patrons are comfortable and want to come back again and again.

A normal night out to eat might be one of the things we all miss most about pre-COVID life. But what I definitely don’t miss is being in over-crowded restaurants where I have to yell across the table so the people I’m with can hear me. Restaurants are put in a very difficult position of wanting to provide patrons with an intimate and comfortable space to dine, while also needing to maximize the number of diners per square foot to turn a profit. Most owners ignore a noise problem as an unavoidable byproduct of having a restaurant, but if you’re here… you want better. We’re here to tell you that it is in fact possible to find a compromise between a packed house, and a noisy room. While you won’t be able to get your restaurant quiet enough to hear a pin drop (who would want that anyway?), we can help you make sure your patrons are comfortable and want to come back again and again.

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Popular Products for Restaurant Noise Reduction


PolyZorbe™ Polyester Acoustic Panel
Timberwool™ Wood Fiber Acoustic Panel
CelluZorbe™ Cellulose Acoustic Panel ("Hidden Absorption")

Why Restaurant Noise is a Problem

It’s easy to just write off that being noisy is just part of going to a restaurant, especially if you operate a more casual dining establishment, but there are a host of issues that can drastically affect your business!

  • Date nights (especially first dates) are big business for restaurants, but if couples can’t hear each other, they aren’t likely to come back.
  • Large groups. Ever been excited to catch up with a group of friends only to be sat at the end of the table in a loud restaurant? Dining is all about conversation over great food, and nothing’s worse than getting stuck at the wrong end of the table.
  • Ordering can be made difficult by a noisy environment. If you’re unable to hear your wait staff, or worse, they can’t hear the customers, it may feel like poor customer service to the patron. This could lead to bad reviews, even if your staff is performing perfectly.
  • Restaurant staff health is often not considered when it comes to noise but it is more important than you think. Working for extended periods of time with background noises over 85 decibels can cause hearing damage, and even permanent hearing loss.
Noise is the main complaint in a restaurant
Noise is the main complaint in a restaurant

The top three complaints restaurants face according to Consumer Reports are;

  1. Customer service
  2. Food quality
  3. Noise

While we can’t help you with staff training or menu creation, we can help you deal with noise. Which arguably is the easiest problem to solve and can have a tremendous impact on the atmosphere of your restaurant.

Typical Restaurant Noise

Everything in a successful restaurant is designed to be noisy. Between the sounds of the kitchen, the bar, and the patrons themselves, there’s a cacophony of noise coming from every corner. Especially these days where there’s a trend of designing restaurants with large open rooms, tall ceilings, and industrial surfaces and furniture. This aesthetic can be cool and trendy to look at, but creates a really poor acoustic environment. And when you take a room with bad acoustics and stuff it with people talking, eating, and clinking plates, you have a formula for a whole lot of ruckus.

Where noise levels should be at for restaurants is hard to measure because not every restaurant has the same atmosphere. Acoustic standards recommend restaurant noise levels hover around 40 to 50 decibels for background noise. While that’s a great goal and may be realistic for a high-end restaurant, it’s not in the ballpark, or even desirable in a smaller or more upbeat space. We can however, tell you how loud is too loud. Even if you want to have a restaurant with a “livelier” atmosphere, background noise just shouldn’t go above 70 decibels. Above 50 dB in background noise is when people have to start raising their voice to compensate, which creates a continual increase in noise as people get louder and louder. At around 80 or 90 decibels, we are into full-on uncomfortable territory where you have to do something. For reference this is basically the same as standing in the middle of a busy highway, or right next to a running lawn mower.

bar with high restaurant noise levels
bar with high restaurant noise levels

The graph above illustrates an “annoyance curve” based on the level of intruding speech, and before you ask, no there isn’t an annoyance curve that you can show your kids or coworkers. (We’ve tried.). This graph illustrates how annoyed people are by noise. It does this by measuring how loud speech is in comparison to the background noise. Note that when speech is 10 dB below the background noise 0% of people are annoyed, but as soon as speech gets 5 dB above background noise, nearly 100% of people are annoyed.

With that in mind, the way to achieve the best sound quality is to find the lowest level of background noise that still effectively masks the sound of other people’s voices. If you get this delicate balance wrong, people will notice and it will impact their experience and ultimately, your business.

How to Reduce Noise in Your Restaurant

As we mentioned earlier, restaurants acoustics are a casualty of of rooms with tall ceilings, large rooms, lack of sound absorption, and crowds of people. Let’s walk through some target areas and how to strategically bring down the noise levels.

The Kitchen

Probably the loudest area of any restaurant is the kitchen. And frankly, as someone who’s washed their fair share of dishes, you know that when the kitchen is loud and boisterous, business is booming. So as an owner or an employee, it can be a good sign to walk into a loud kitchen, it can even be energizing and motivate you to continue to do good work! But for restaurant patrons, it’s a huge distraction. Rather than try to get your kitchen staff to somehow cook quieter, find ways to seal the kitchen from the dining area and keep the sound from getting through. Start by soundproofing a door if you have one, and any walls that face the dining area. Consider plugging open areas with soundproof windows or a soundproof wall. All kitchen layouts are different, so we recommend checking out our other articles on how to soundproof a room. These soundproofing principles can also be helpful if your restaurant is suffering from street noise or loud neighbors.

The dining area

Your focus in the dining area should be to find ways to absorb the sound bouncing off of the many hard surfaces in a restaurant. The most effective way to do this is to install Acoustic Pro fabric wrapped panels throughout the walls and ceiling with acoustic cloud panels. Our panels are wrapped with designer selected fabrics and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. They can even be customized to blend in or stand out so that they will fit your restaurant’s aesthetic. They’re super simple to install and are the quickest way to drastically improve the acoustics and make it easier for patrons to hear each other and themselves.

If you’re worried about tinkering with the aesthetics of your space, there’s a good answer: use “hidden absorption”. Install acoustic material anywhere it can’t be easily seen, like underneath all your tables. With a little framing around this under-table absorption, it’s protected from children’s picking fingers and your customers won’t be able to see it unless they are laying on the floor. While a bit less performance than acoustic panels on the wall, the hidden absorption will still make a big difference. And you can also choose much cheaper materials, because it doesn’t matter if they look good.

In addition, you can find ways to incorporate thick, sound absorbing decor throughout your space like rugs and curtains. Wood, glass, and concrete may be great for your design, but they’re terrible sound absorbers. Find ways to incorporate carpet in high traffic areas, and curtains on walls or windows close to seating areas. Using thick, but soft materials are key to sound absorption. Thin materials won’t do much, but are still better than regular concrete or hardwood.

acoustic panels used on restaurant wall
acoustic panels used on restaurant wall

Identifying noise sources

Try to sniff out what objects are creating noise in the restaurant, even small things can add up to contribute to a noisy environment. If you’re able to, move loud machinery like ice machines, drink machines, blenders, etc away from patrons or in a different room entirely. If you play TVs or loud music for bar patrons, try to separate that space from diners. This has the added benefit of having a restaurant with two unique environments that people can choose from.

Even take a look at the furniture. People are constantly shifting their seats and getting up, so use floor protectors and furniture pads so chairs and tables slide around easily. Check tables regularly so they don’t wobble and rattle. Even tablecloths can be helpful! Although they are too thin to absorb sound from people, they will lessen the noise as silverware, plates, and glasses clink and are moved around.

background noise

Ok so this last tip may sound counterintuitive, but you should find a way to create background noise. I know we just gave you a bunch of tips on how to get rid of noise, but hear us out. When you play background sounds at a low steady level, it can actually have a masking effect on intrusive noise. This is why white noise is often used in office spaces, or to help people sleep. The background sound you use should be bland and steady and shouldn’t exceed 60 decibels (and could even be less than 50 db in a more quiet restaurant). When done right, people won’t even notice the background sound. There also are complex noise systems you can install, but your typical high quality audio system will work just fine for most restaurants.

Eating at a restaurant is the perfect sensory experience. The smells from the kitchen, the feeling of breaking open fresh bread, of course the taste of the food, and yes, even the sounds around you. But when one of these senses is negatively affected, it can drag down the entire experience. We’ll let you continue to be the experts in delicious cuisine, but as the chefs of sound, we’re always here to help you find ways to create a dining experience that’s as pleasing to the ear as it is to the taste buds.

PolyZorbe Polyester Panels Are Sleek and Absorptive

The PolyZorbe acoustical panel has it all. For starters, it's an attractive panel that's durable and easy to clean. Combine that with an even more attractive price point, and you've got a formula for winning acoustics. Give is a call to discuss how PolyZorbe can be utilized to enhance your space.

  • 100% polyester acoustic panels are non-allergenic, non-toxic, and have no chemical irritants
  • 3 color options
  • Custom sizes available
  • Decorative, tackable, and easy to clean
  • Class A Fire Rated

Have questions about your project?

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