Numerous factors must be considered when designing a restaurant. So many factors, in fact, that it is common for some issues to be overlooked. Unfortunately, one of the most common issues to be overlooked is also one of the most important. Not addressing this issue could affect the health and safety of restaurant employees and patrons, it can discourage return customers, it could cause violations in code, and it can cost the restaurant owner thousands of dollars to correct. Acoustics and noise, both within the restaurant and within the environment, should not be overlooked in restaurant design.


Noise Sources Affecting Restaurants
Acoustics in a restaurant is influenced by several variables including spacial arrangement, shape of the walls and ceiling, materials used, construction methods used, etc. (For more information on how these variables influence acoustics and what can be done to limit acoustic concerns visit Acoustics.com.) But where does the issue of poor acoustics in a restaurant really begin? It all begins with noise. Before trying to solve the problem, consider what the problem is.

The Kitchen
A common trend today is to incorporate the kitchen into the main seating area of the restaurant, to make it open and visible. This also makes the kitchen audible. Kitchen noise includes the clanging and banging of dishes and the chatter among kitchen employees. This causes a build-up of noise in the restaurant.

Enclosing the kitchen can help to mitigate this noise concern, however, noise can also transmit through or over a wall. If kitchen noise is not something that is desired in the restaurant, proper measures must be taken to block the sound from transmitting. (Learn more about Sound Transmission) This is especially a concern where the kitchen is placed directly adjacent to a seating area.

The Patrons
Many times the noise in a restaurant is noise from the patrons talking and ordering. This noise is compounded by other noise sources. For example, kitchen noise can cause people to need to talk louder in order to hear each other. In quieter settings, people will tend to speak in a quieter voice. (Issues such as reverberation and reflections can increase the level of noise from the patrons.)

Certain areas in a restaurant are more active, where patrons tend to be louder than in other areas. These active areas could include the waiting area or a bar. A common problem is noise from patrons in a bar or waiting area that is adjacent to a dining area.

Building systems
When designing a restaurant it is important to think about acoustics in all areas of the design. Mechanical and Plumbing equipment can cause unwanted noise. A loud HVAC system will cause a build-up of noise and encourage patrons to increase their noise level. HVAC and plumbing noises can also be annoying to patrons.

Music
Some restaurant owners may choose to play music in the dining area. Music can help to mask other possible annoying sounds, such as HVAC or plumbing noise. However, this may be perceived as adding more noise to an already noisy space. This is particularly true if the restaurant is very reverberant (i.e. high ceilings and reflective surfaces).

Exterior Traffic
Noises from outside the restaurant can also impact the interior of the restaurant. Depending on the construction of the building, outdoor noise like traffic noise can transmit through the exterior walls. This can be a serious concern for restaurants near major highways, roadways, railways or airports.

Adjacent occupancies
Restaurants in multi-use/shared buildings also face another problem. Noise from adjacent occupants can transmit through walls between the two spaces. This is especially a problem for the restaurant when the adjacent occupant is creating a lot of noise. But what if the restaurant is creating a lot of noise?


Restaurants as a Noise Source
When considering the noise sources within the restaurant, also consider that a restaurant can be a noise source itself. Restaurants and their operations can impact the environment around them, whether it be an adjacent occupancy or a nearby neighborhood.

Adjacent occupancies
Just as noise from adjacent occupancies can negatively impact a restaurant, noise from the restaurant can negatively impact an adjacent occupancy. Particularly in a loud restaurant, sounds from patrons, music, or the kitchen can transmit through the wall and be bothersome to the receiver.

Outdoor patios
Outdoor patios are a large concern for the surrounding neighborhood. Typically, people feel more comfortable speaking in a louder voice when outdoors. It is also common to play music in outdoor patios. If the patio seats a large number of patrons, this sound can build up and impact nearby homes.

Parking lots
Restaurant parking lots can have several noise sources: noise from traffic entering and exiting, slamming auto doors, engines starting, auto stereos, honking horns, alarms, and patrons coming and going, or waiting. Another noise source that is easily overlooked is dumpster noise. It is common for restaurants to collect a large amount of trash throughout the day. It is also common for the restaurant to empty this trash into the outdoor dumpster late at night. This can be a noisy operation. Surrounding residential areas are less likely to tolerate noise sources late at night.

Intercoms
Often times as a restaurant gets busier, less people are able to wait in the indoor waiting area. This increases the parking lot noise, but it could also cause the addition of a noise source. Outdoor intercoms are being used outside of many restaurants in order to let people know when their table is ready. Intercoms are made to project sound, and are generally pointed away from the restaurant and toward the surrounding area.

Mechanical equipment
Large equipment is usually necessary for restaurant operations. Outdoor mechanical units and cooling towers can pollute the environment with excessive noise.

Music venues
Not all restaurants have live performances by musicians; however, there are some restaurants that provide this feature on a regular basis. Live music can be very loud and can be a concern for the surrounding area whether it is coming from within the restaurant or outside of the restaurant.


The Next Step
As you can see, there are many noise sources affecting restaurants and affecting the environment, and not all of them are listed here. Perhaps this list will be the first step to make you more aware of the number of noise sources, and help you to think of other possible noise concerns. Once the problem has been identified, the next step is to provide a solution.

Solutions for noise concerns vary depending on several factors. Visit Acoustics.com for possible solutions for your noise concerns. In a large majority of cases it is necessary to seek the advice of a professional acoustical consultant. Experienced acoustical consultants can identify potential concerns, make necessary calculations, and provide options of how to mitigate noise. Visit Acoustics.com's Consultant Directory to find an acoustical consultant who can assist you with your restaurant noise.


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