Using acoustic design to achieve great restaurant ambience is no pie in the sky

27 November 2020 by Alex Priestley, Senior Consultant

We’re all looking forward to returning to our favourite restaurants, and trying new ones, as soon as we can. But if someone were to say ‘acoustics is an important part of restaurant design’, many designers would relegate it to a lower position in the pecking order of importance, since you can’t see or taste it and good acoustics is often perceived as something overly complex and out of reach for most establishments.

Yet we often recollect the ‘good ambience’ of somewhere we like or the ‘poor ambience’ of somewhere we don’t, and when we do the chances are, we are referring, at least in part, to the acoustics of the room. After all, we only have a few senses, and hearing is one we use acutely when sharing the pleasure of in-depth conversation with our valued dining partners.

Imagine for a moment the ambience in an old school dinner hall, all formica table tops, lino floors, brick, plaster, glass, clattering and raised voices (I say old because even school dinner halls have acoustic design guidelines now, so why shouldn’t restaurants?).

Now imagine what you want an intimate restaurant to sound like. Perhaps you imagine muffled distant voices with the occasional tinkle of silver or the clink of a glass, and you might also picture a space with softer furnishings.

But whilst these are perhaps extremes, the ambience of many restaurants, including some High Street chains, with interior designs favouring the always attractive aesthetics of tiled floors and marble tables, are typically also victims of poor ambience for the same reasons as the old school dinner hall, even without the kids. As such, you find yourself having to raise your voice just so your dining partner can hear you (and of course everyone else is doing the same). Indeed, this issue was raised to prominence by an article in The Guardian ‘Great food, but please do something about the noise’ – the battle for quieter restaurants: by Ellie Violet Bramley, 9 May 2019.

To this end, Spectrum were pleased to work with one of our clients on a stunning refurbishment and extension to their existing boutique bar restaurant, enabling them to maintain the interior design characteristics of their choice whilst achieving the ambience they wanted.

In order to do this, we talked with the client about their goals, then used acoustic modelling to confirm how it could be achieved in practice, enabling the architect to develop and finalise the scheme.

odeon noise model of restaurant

This involved using available ceiling space to accommodate materials with the acoustic absorption characteristics needed to ensure the required reverberation times could be met.

The final design achieved the desired acoustic criteria, with minimal impact on the aesthetic design of the space and at very reasonable cost.

Using acoustic design to achieve great restaurant ambience is no pie in the sky