A noisy restaurant is a happy restaurant, or so goes the industry belief, anyway.
The reality is that noise is becoming a substantial problem in the hospitality business. Design trends in recent years have done away with carpeting, linen tablecloths and other restaurant accouterments that unintentionally but effectively mitigated sound in confined spaces.
The trend instead has been towards cavernous open spaces with hardwoods, high ceilings and lots of windows, creating a massive canyon of echoes. At some point during the day or evening, the sonic arms race begins, pitting tables against other tables and all against the encroaching volume of the sound system.
That’s the dilemma that Boston area restaurateur Dylan Welsh found himself faced with after he opened Five Horses Tavern on Davis Square in the Boston suburb of Somerville in 2012. The pub, which emphasizes fresh fare and craft beers from around the world (it offers 37 rotating drafts and over 130 bottles) proved popular early on. But that’s when Welsh first encountered noise issues, realizing that between the talking and the music, the din was crossing the tipping point.
“We were having a huge problem with noise inside,” he recalls. “We’d have 150 people in there, and the room has reflective wood and glass and high ceilings, and it would just get overwhelming sometimes. Something needed to be done.”
DIY Noise Control
Welsh says he tried a variety of things to address the issue, including trying to adjust the volume levels to match the pitch of the dining room and bar areas as each night progressed, to no avail. But Welsh, who prides himself on his Boston spirit of self reliance, kept at it and discovered three key noise-abatement strategies.
The first was to zone the sound system, creating separate areas with their own adjustable levels. That way, when the bar area sound level began to increase, the dining area wasn’t impacted when the restaurant manager had to raise the music level in the bar area.
In addition to adding zones, he also had the friend who had done the original sound system installation add more speakers to the system. “What we found was that when we distributed the sound over more speakers, each speaker could be at a lower volume but we’d still be able to have the same overall volume effect,” Welsh explains.
The third tactic was ultimately the most effective. Welsh contacted local retailer GC Pro and asked an account manager there to offer an assessment of the situation. The employee, PK Pandey, immediately spotted the ample number of hard reflective surfaces in the tavern and recommended applying substantial amounts of off-the-shelf absorption products, including Auralex’s Studiofoam Pro Class A acoustical foam, and Acoustical Surfaces’ Sound Silencer Porous Expanded Polypropylene acoustical wall and ceiling tile panels.
However, the real trick lay placing these absorptive materials in such a way as to make the most effective use of it but where it also wouldn’t interfere with the restaurant’s interior décor. Pandey made placement suggestions to Welsh, who had decided to do the application process himself to better manage costs. There were the obvious locations, such as on ceilings above hardwood and tiled floor areas. But there were also some more nuanced applications, such as affixing them to the underside of certain tables and chairs, to reduce upward reflections that can produce flutter echoes.