10 Ways to Reduce Noise in your Cafe or Restaurant – and Bring Customers Back!

Why don’t people come back, after they enjoyed your food and the service? It could be the noise – too loud to talk with friends and feel relaxed.

Here’s a bunch of ideas for noise reduction, if you have to do it after your venue opens. The fact is, most architects and designers give little thought to effective noise reduction, creating hard-surface boxes with all 6 sides reflective so the noise bounces like bullets to kill our enjoyment.

It’s good to understand some of the technicalities of noise and how it’s created and reduced – the excellent Acoustical Surfaces blog is full of great articles such as Soundproofing vs Sound Absorbing – What’s the Difference? and Noisy restaurant solutions- when peace and quiet are not on the menu. Noise is measured in decibels, and the different levels are listed below. Measure it with a noise meter app from the iOS or Google App store – they’re good enough to show you the level of pain, which can quickly move into the danger level (above 80 dB) in a noisy venue.

Here are some easy ways to reduce noise in restaurants and cafes…

  • Acoustic panels – attached to walls or ceiling. These can be the expensive sound baffles like they use in a recording studio (they absorb sound) or simpler ones from a hardware like Bunnings. Even egg crates can be combined in an interesting way if your look is ‘cheap and cheerful’.
  • DIY acoustic panels – foam stuck onto plywood cut to size, covered with interesting fabric. In Australia, Clark Rubber has foams of all thicknesses and grades that they will cut to size.
  • Hang attractive floor rugs from the walls. There are many varieties at markets that could double as interesting art, and IKEA has a wide range at low cost
  • Hessian coffee sacks, filled with padding and hung as interesting wall features – another idea for a casual environment.
  • Padded panels between tables, to create more intimate spaces and reduce sound. Better in a more formal space with a large area.
  • Cushions and padding on chairs and benches – it all helps.
  • Tablecloths! Out of fashion in many places, but they do the job very well. Avoid padding under tables – it makes a slight improvement but feels a bit creepy when if you reach underneath.
  • Carpet! In my Cafe Troppo days, we had commercial carpet tiles in a charcoal grey and sound was never an issue. Steam cleaned once a month and very few spills to worry about – people don’t notice what’s on the floor. Artificial grass is also an option, and could be used in strips or as a feature – it’s done effectively by the Cafe 63 group in Queensland.
  • Turn down the music – it’s often up loud because of all the other noise, and people can hardly hear it anyway! You don’t need stereo in a large space, but you do need quality sound. Small speakers spaced around will be sufficient rather than a couple of big stereo speakers. If good music is a special feature at your place, it’s important that people can hear and enjoy it.
  • Reduce noise from the bar – blenders and appliances can be intrusive, best to have them with shields and covers.

Understanding noise levels…
Loud noise causes damage in two ways: the actual volume, and the length of time exposed to it. A noisy venue could result in occupational health and safety issues – attention clubs and entertainers!

Here’s a detailed chart of noise levels, and a quick summary of decibel levels:

140 – Jet engine at 30 m
130 – Rivet hammer (pain can be felt at this threshold)
120 – Rock drill – level at which PAIN BEGINS
110 – Chainsaw
100 – Sheet metal workshop
90 – Lawn mower
80 – Kerbside heavy traffic – level at which sustained exposure may cause HEARING LOSS
70 – Loud conversation
60 – Normal conversation

Seen behind the bar in a Las Vegas nighclub…