Noise reduction

How to fight back poor acoustics in the hospitality sector

A how to guide.


Are bar, restaurant, and hotel lobby environments actually too loud or considered acceptable for occupants? The knock-on effects are clear. Everyone has had trouble once holding a conversation while eating out.

Over the last decades, many restaurants have become so loud that dining out ceased to be the cozy experience it used to be. Moreover, some critics now regularly report on the noise levels alongside the quality of the food. Nowadays, there are apps which allow users to search for restaurants conducive to conversation.

The impact of noise exposure not only affects the diners but the staff as well. The din of a loud restaurant or reception area is unavoidable. That’s annoying for every guest and even worse for the staff who works there.

By the same token, hotels design encompasses a wide variety of acoustic challenges as well: While a lively hospitality space is appealing, too much noise and lack of privacy might be a turn off as well: HVAC, elevators, music, and people chatting.

The cocktail party syndrome

We all frequently experience the cocktail party phenomenon. But, what is it about? Since perceiving speech in crowded bars and restaurants becomes a challenge, we pay selective attention to distinguish a single speaker in such noisy environments.

On top of it, everyone in the room is making noise and talking but, to be heard, we have to increase the volume of our speech so that our listeners can hear us over the background noise (the so-called the Lombard effect).

Recurring challenges in the hospitality sector

In general, scientific research has shown that long exposure to noise sets off the body’s acute stress response as a defense mechanism, which raises blood pressure, heart rate and causes the release of stress hormone like cortisol. Yet, noise pollution also influences the food tasting experience negatively when dining out.

Even a delicious dinner can leave a bad taste. In a report, "Noise and its impact on the perception of food and drink", from the University of Oxford, Charles Spencer found that “both background noise and loud music can impair our ability to taste food and drink. It would appear that noise selectively impairs the ability to detect tastes, such as sweet and sour while leaving certain other taste and flavor experiences relatively unaffected.”

In many cases, the lack of awareness about the key role that good acoustics play in the quality of hospitality spaces results in annoying environments. Both high background noise levels and reverberation bring about problems with speech intelligibility and communication.

Drawing on past experience, we’ve come across a range of challenges when dealing with acoustic issues in restaurants, bars and hotel lobbies, which are partly to blame:

  • Background noise (music, kitchen, cutlery, dishes, people talking)
  • Hard surfaces (floors, ceilings, and walls)
  • Hard, non-absorbing furniture (plastic, screens, …)
  • Glass windows and/or doors
  • Reverberation from AV equipment

The average background noise level in bars and restaurants hovers around 85 decibels, which is not dangerous, but completely unpleasant and close to human harmful threshold of 125 dB.

But everything is not lost. Good acoustic design doesn’t necessarily mean compromising visual aesthetics and sound treatment should never be an afterthought.

Choosing the right acoustic solutions

It’s no wonder that good acoustics plays a crucial role in obtaining that pleasant atmosphere visitors expect. Diners who go to a fancy restaurant would like the sensory experience to dominate, so poor acoustics is what they expect the least.

Moreover, a well-balanced space is the key factor to the well-being and performance of staff who work there. Not only is noise pollution annoying to guests, but it also has a negative impact on the bottom line. In noisy environments, servers and bartenders are more likely to make errors and patience threshold Is lower. Let’s be honest, a nice waiter contributes for good to the whole experience.

If you are seeking to improve sound quality, you should first start measuring the reverberation time of your room. If you need help getting started, revisit the RT60 user manual in the download section or get in touch with one of our acoustic experts.

For picking the right solutions, several variables should be taken into account, among others:

  • Noise-absorbing material
  • Soft and porous furniture
  • The kind of atmosphere you are aiming for
  • Type of activity (e.g., bar, lobby, lounge, dining area)

Reception area

For creating the right atmosphere, it’s a good idea to tackle noise with different aesthetically appealing acoustic treatments, which result in a well-balanced space.

Sound waves typically bounce first against the walls since they are the hard surfaces closest to the sound source. That’s why it is one of the effective ways to reduce noise pollution. Go for wall applications ranging from a chic sound-dampening wall treatment panel like BuzziTab Soft or wallpaper BuzziSkin Printed. These will help absorb the sound waves, thus reducing the amount of sound that is sent back into the space.

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Dining area and bar

It’s logical that diners would stay longer if they had a positive acoustic experience. As our motto says, silence is not a luxury. So, many solutions from acoustic ceiling application and acoustic lighting can mitigate sound transfer in the space

The ceiling-mounted acoustic panels help mitigate sound transfers in a space, preventing sound from bouncing. Vertical panels may also aid in lowering background noise to an acceptable level. By hanging, BuzziLand or BuzziLoose, built with high-performance sound-absorbing materials, you will dampen unwanted sounds and provide a pleasant experience where you assure speech intelligibility.

—Lobby and Lounge area

In hotel lobbies, there is a need to preserve speech privacy or have the space to take a moment and unwind. But often, it is completely the opposite. The desired area to relax or retreat while you are waiting or having a telephone call is far from being pleasant due to the background noise.

For the lounge area, our acoustic furniture can contribute to creating the perfect space for a luxe reprieve. BuzziSpark, for instance, would play an ideal role in reducing background noise. Designed with lobbies and communal spaces in mind, guests can take a break in this soft lounge sofa. The entire BuzziSpark cocoon soaks up sound waves, which result in more internal privacy and less ambient noise.

—Goodbye to any sour taste!

It is worth noting that your hospitality space might have a great service and a stylish décor, but if visitors are exposed to a noisy environment, the enjoyable experience is gone right away. Today’s lesson learned: when designing a space, acoustics should be taken into account from the earliest stage and combined with the look you are going for.

These are just recommendations and ideas about how to tackle acoustic issues in hospitality that should be taken as reference. Finding the ideal positioning depends on several factors, including room type, the activity of the space, and existing furniture.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in that matter, so measures should be taken in advance to achieve that desired well-balanced dinner space, bar or hotel lobby.

Now, you have an extensive menu to balance sound in restaurants, reception areas and hotel lobbies. Then, you can experience the power of good acoustics first-hand.

Need advice?

For specific recommendations, we advise you to get in touch with our Acoustic Ambassador.
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