The Importance of Acoustics in Hospitality

Interior acoustic quality in environments such as bars, cafés and restaurants can have a significant impact on patrons and staff alike - affecting the business itself.

Numerous factors impact the overall acoustic quality of these spaces such as the speech, background noise and architectural design of the room itself.

Bars, cafés and restaurants traditionally had carpeted floors and soft furnishings such as upholstered chairs, tablecloths and curtains which provided some sound absorbing qualities. Recent trends lean towards a modern look which generally includes high ceilings and hard surfaces; though these features are aesthetically pleasing, they are known to produce excessive room echo. As these venues are usually fast-paced and crowded, this makes for an uncomfortably loud environment. Studies indicated that these types of venues generally foster acoustic conditions that are less than desirable for comfortable social interactions.

Social interactions are a common source of excessive noise which can be explained by the noise-breeds-noise effect, also known as the café-effect. This phenomenon occurs when conversations of individual groups create noise, which results in surrounding groups subconsciously competing to be heard and understood (Whitlock & Dodd, 2006).

A study conducted on noise interference in food courts revealed that 60% of shoppers surveyed had difficulties hearing speech in food courts, while almost half admitted they avoid these places because they thought noise would be a nuisance (Cropp, 2010). This just goes to show how truly significant interior acoustics are and how they can attract or deter clientele.

Understanding what is considered as acceptable acoustic conditions is not only important to ensure that patron visits are a pleasurable experience, but also to ensure that staff health and safety will not be compromised by excessive levels of noise.

A study conducted by The Daily Mail recently highlighted the growing concern for restaurant acoustics, in an industry focussed on design over functionality. Professionals advise that you shouldn't endure 94 decibel noise levels for more than an hour, or 97 decibels for more than 30 minutes. A majority of these establishments visited were averaging over 90 decibels, with some reaching as high as 110 decibels and no restaurants below 84. What this shows is that the restaurant industry is struggling to provide safe acoustic environments for its customers, and even though these levels are safe for an hour, staff are having to endure this level of noise for 6-10 hours. (Read more)

Though the importance of providing acceptable acoustic conditions is clear, there is a common misconception that investing in a better acoustic environment can be costly and image may be compromised.  Redefining your environment to promote better acoustic conditions can increase patronage, which in the end will increase revenue. Marshall Day acoustic consultant Stuart Camp recounted how lowered noise levels proved very beneficial for a notoriously loud bar, resulting in doubled beverage sales and quadrupled food sales. Camp commented that "as far as [the manager] could tell, people weren’t ordering another beer because it was too hard to communicate with the bartender, and people tended not to stay and eat because it was too noisy" (Cropp, 2010, p.14).

There are a vast number of cafés, restaurants and bars competing for clientele; being able to provide a pleasurable atmosphere that promotes social interaction gives a competitive advantage that cannot be overlooked. Investing in an acoustic upgrade can add to the overall look as well as create a pleasant atmosphere.

In conclusion, providing an environment that is acoustically accommodating is better for clients, staff and the business. If you are designing a café, restaurant or bar, contact an acoustic consultant or account manager at a company like Autex Industries, who specialise in providing customised interior acoustic solutions.

Danielle Robinson
Marketing Manager
Autex Acoustics UK
M: +44 7415689533