When Indaco first opened its hefty wooden doors on the bustling King Street block of Charleston, South Carolina, in August 2013, managing partner Steve Palmer took inventory of the design. The modern-industrial layout was complex and fluid, with butcherblock tables, an energetic open kitchen, lime-wash walls, and white brick accentuating the city’s roots and future. A day later, he realized something else: the beautiful, hard surfaces—common to historic renovations—let noise bounce around the room like multiple people yelling into a single phone booth. “The guests were saying it was so loud they couldn’t hear themselves talk,” he says.

Palmer, who operates eight restaurants with the Charleston-based hospitality group The Indigo Road, realized he had a problem when complaints started to filter in. Balancing the vibrant and comfortable, when it comes to restaurant commotion, can seem like an afterthought when weighed next to the typical pitfalls and challenges. But it’s crucial nonetheless, he adds. “It’s one of those things where you don’t think about it until it’s opening night and people are suddenly saying, ‘I can’t hear in here,’” Palmer explains.

For a year and a half, Indaco—an Italian-focused concept from Executive Chef Michael Perez—absorbed the noise. The reasoning was straightforward. Although Palmer was well aware of the problem, he wasn’t sure how to solve it at this point in the restaurant’s life. He says soft décor touches, like curtains and carpets, can help from the outset. At this stage, he contacted his architect and looked for alternative options. What he found was a solution from Performance Acoustics. The contractors installed ceiling panels that, according to the company, cut down reverberation time by more than 50 percent.

“People commented [on the reduced noise level] right away,” Palmer says, adding that you can’t notice the addition unless you’re looking for it.

In the future, Palmer suggests operators force the sound issue with architects early on. While you can’t really know how noisy a restaurant will be until opening night, it’s important to consider the problem before it swells. The Performance Acoustics design is one he will continue to monitor for future units, he adds.

Scott Rhodes, the co-founder of Performance Acoustics, says they approached the challenge hoping to improve the setting without compromising it. “For the Indaco project, we worked closely with Steve to ensure that our acoustical design met his overall need to quiet the space while keeping the existing aesthetic and energetic vibe in place,” Rhodes says. “The resulting solution was the installation of acoustical ceiling tiles that blend in perfectly with the restaurant’s ceilings and also absorb the unnecessary sounds that were detracting from the overall dining experience.”  

This is a growing trend, comments Steve Floyd, also a co-founder of Performance Acoustics. As restaurants work to separate from the field, especially in a destination city like Charleston, paying mind to minute details, such as ambiance and atmosphere, can make all the difference.

“We’re seeing an overall upswing in restaurant business across the board. In fact, nearly 30 percent of our acoustical consulting and installation business over the past six months has been for restaurants and event spaces,” Floyd says. “According to ZAGAT, Americans, on average, eat out 4.5 times per week and restaurateurs are increasingly wanting to improve that overall dining out experience, that’s where we come in, to create appealing soundscapes in beloved eateries so that the dining experience is better than ever before.” 

Danny Klein

Chef Profiles, Industry News, Restaurant Design