Have you ever wondered why so many foods taste bad on airplanes? It’s because your sense of taste is compromised by the loud din of the plane’s engines, say researchers at Cornell University. The noise inhibits your ability to taste sweet foods and enhances umami tastes, or what researchers describe as “the sweet, savory taste of amino acids such as glutamate in foods like tomato juice.”
Though restaurants usually aren’t as loud as the hum from a jet engine, the blaring sounds from a crowded restaurant with poor acoustics can affect your taste buds—and your experience. Using this information, restaurant and bar owners across the country are designing spaces with sound in mind—including Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle as well as Oliveto in Oakland, California. How can restaurants use sound and acoustics to enhance the guest experience? It’s all about setting the mood with sound, designing with acoustics in mind, controlling the volume on TVs and even rearranging equipment to minimize disruption.
According to Zagat’s 2018 Dining Trends Survey, diners are irritated by lousy service, high prices and parking. However, their number one complaint in restaurants is noise. You don’t want a silent dining space, though. So, think about setting the mood with sound.
Consider the music. According to the Association for Consumer Research, people spend more time dining—and usually spend more money—in a restaurant playing slow music than one playing tunes with a faster tempo. Yet another study shows that people will drink more, in less time, if the bar is playing loud music.
Invest in a better stereo system. If patrons are unhappy about noise in your restaurant, the problem may be with the quality of your system and speakers. When was the last time you bought a new stereo and speakers? Consider your current system and determine if you can afford a higher-quality system and better speakers, or even just more recently manufactured equipment featuring advanced technology.
Distribute sound. Speaking of speakers, are your woofers and tweeters properly distributed around your space so that the sound level is the same everywhere? If not, it’s time to move things around. You never want one part of your restaurant to have a different music volume than other areas.
The way you decorate a space can have a significant impact on sound. Modern spaces with sleek surfaces look great. However, all those hard facades ensure sound bounces around the room, making for awful acoustics. Adding softer surfaces goes a long way toward improving acoustics without sacrificing the aesthetic. Some solutions require a more substantial investment, like acoustic tiles or panels, but you can add others on a budget. Those softer surfaces include:
- Carpet or rugs in high-traffic areas
- Acoustic panels
- Leather furniture
- Acoustic ceiling tiles
In addition to improving acoustics, adding softer surfaces makes diners more comfortable.
In many restaurants, whether it’s a large sports bar or neighborhood diner, patrons expect to be able to watch TV. The sound from even one TV, though, can make for an unpleasant dining experience. Closed-captioning is the solution many restaurants and bars choose, but often, is delayed rather than perfectly synced to the action on the screen and this can be distracting and frustrating to viewers.
Using an audio streaming system over WiFi makes it possible to broadcast sound from TVs without disrupting everyone’s dining experience. These systems allow diners to stream audio directly from their TV of choice straight to their smartphone or tablet via apps. Customers can listen with their own earbuds or headphones and still socialize with other patrons (or not)—without disturbing people who aren’t interested in what’s happening on TV. Audio streaming gives everyone a choice of what he/she hears.
Did you know that sounds 85 decibels and above can damage hearing? Your own kitchen equipment may exceed that level—a blender alone can reach 88 decibels. Combine kitchen sounds with the din of conversation from the dining or bar areas, plus music, and you may be exceeding safe sound levels.
Consider moving your noisy equipment away from dining areas to keep sound levels down and protect your patrons’—and staff’s—hearing. Encourage staff exposed to loud machinery to wear ear plugs or headphones to protect their hearing and limit the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
The sound in a restaurant with poor acoustics and sound design can lead to a poor dining—and tasting—experience, but the opposite is also true. Restaurants can enhance the guest experience by setting the mood with the right sound, decorating with sound in mind, keeping TVs muted, and rearranging equipment to keep disruptions at a minimum.
Kim Spencer is the marketing director at Listen Technologies, a leading provider of assistive listening products for 21 years. www.listentech.com