Jenny Brookes, area marketing manager at Rockfon UK, discusses the problems posed by intrusive background noise in hospitality premises and how ceilings can offer a solution.
We all like to partake in café culture and to eat out and socialise. But are the cafés, bars, eateries and clubs we frequent healthy places to be? Increasingly, noise is having an impact on both the customers and staff of many food and drink venues.
Cafés and coffee shops can be noisy places thanks to coffee making equipment, glass, crockery, cutlery, music and general chatter. A 2017 survey for the charity Action on Hearing Loss (AoHL) found noise levels of more than 97 decibels in one café, as noisy as standing next to a tractor or in a nightclub.
There is a growing trend for people to spend some of their working day away from the formality of the office or classroom and to work from laptops in their favourite coffee emporium. But how effective are thought processes and productivity in these surroundings? Research by Ravi Mehta of the University of Illinois found that while the moderate levels of noise experienced in some coffee shops can actually help creativity, as soon as noise levels increase above 85 decibels, creativity and the amount of information people can process are negatively impacted.
Sound impacting sales
Unwanted noise can overwhelm the senses and become a distraction. It might even mean diners are less able to taste their food or hear fellow patrons. An additional issue can be misheard orders. Under these circumstances, diners might decide not to return.
Intrusive background noise is a growing issue in restaurants, cafés and pubs. The charity Action on Hearing Loss (AoHL) has revealed that 35% of customers surveyed write online reviews after dining out, and half of these mention high noise levels. An earlier report found that 79% of those surveyed had left a restaurant early, resulting in a loss of revenue for the restaurant, all as a result of excess noise.
More disturbing facts relating to retail premises were aired by sound consultant Julian Treasure on the online forum TED, where influential videos from expert speakers are featured.
“Bad retail soundscapes, which could be improved with acoustic absorption, lead to a 28% decrease in sales with people leaving (shops) faster, or just turning around at the door,” said Julian, who is also the author of several respected books on the subject.
Health and hearing projection
For those who work in such establishments, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says the level at which employers must assess the risk to workers’ health and provide them with information and training is 80 decibels. It also states 85 decibels (daily or weekly average exposure) employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones.
AoHL chief executive Mark Atkinson said: “These results demonstrate the business case for restaurants putting some real consideration into their acoustics. Everyone loves going out for a meal but with an increasing variety of takeaway options and the intrusive background noise levels exacerbated by fashionable hard surfaces, it’s no wonder customers are opting to stay in.”
To really get to grips with the issue, acoustic ceilings and wall panels are the most effective way of controlling sound and can harmonise with the interior design.
Class A sound absorbency
Senior consultant acoustician, Malachy McAlister, advised on improvements to the acoustics at iconic Dublin landmark café Bewley’s, where a smooth, seamless, Class A sound absorbent ceiling is now installed to control reverberation and integrate with the building’s period features. He is impressed with how effectively the monolithic ceiling reduced the level of reverberation. “We were able to determine the additional absorption provided by the new ceiling by undertaking acoustic tests before and after its installation. Our measurements show the acoustic ceiling reduced the reverberation time from 1.1 seconds to 0.7 seconds, a 35% reduction in sound reverberation.”
Bewley’s Grafton Street assistant general manager, Andrew Griffin, noticed a big improvement. “Before the new ceiling, the noise levels could get very high, making it difficult to hear what customers are saying. Now the feel of the café has changed, it is much calmer and more relaxed,” he said.
The Mikkeller craft beer bar had a problem with unwanted noise. The installation of frameless acoustic ceiling islands solved the issue whilst also providing high light reflection, a visually-appealing addition to the bar’s minimalistic Scandinavian interior. Ceiling islands offer versatility as they work equally well in modern or historic settings and can be retrofitted.
Versatile acoustic options
If increasing the acoustic performance of the ceiling is not a viable option, or additional sound control is required after ceiling improvements have been made, installing acoustic wall panels is a highly effective way of reducing the impact of noise. Available in a wide range of sizes and colours, they can create striking wall designs either on their own or as part of an overall interior style.
Consulting with an acoustician or a reputable manufacturer of sound absorbent ceilings and wall systems at the beginning of the project will ensure the interior offers a comfortable and enjoyable dining experience for customers who will want to recommend and return to. Those working in such environments are also likely to be better protected against everyday stress noise and the possibility of serious long-term health impacts such as tinnitus and hearing loss.