Why Bad Acoustics are Costing Restaurants Money

In a visual industry, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of acoustics in a design plan whose function is not directly related to auditoriums, theaters, or sound production studios.  

But too many hotels, restaurants, and offices do just that—only to find they have to make expensive retro-fixes, or, even worse, lose repeat business without understanding the role that poor acoustics played in a negative guest experience.  

Once upon a time, the hallmarks of “upscale” dining included the hushed luxury of tablecloths, carpeted floors, and fully upholstered seating, so sound absorption took care of itself. 

In the old days…

In the old days…


But today’s upscale restaurant décor is just as likely to be the opposite: sleek minimalist or industrial designs whose hard surfaces are virtual sound-wave boomerangs.  

Photo courtesy of    The Osprey    Brooklyn

Photo courtesy of The Osprey Brooklyn

Photo courtesy of    Manhatta Restaurant

Photo courtesy of Manhatta Restaurant


The din of conversation and clattering china that bounces back and forth between all those bare floors and exposed ceiling ductwork can make a place feel exciting and vibrant, but that quickly fades when people can’t hear their companions across the table. And that can be ultimately disastrous to a restaurant’s bottom line.

Photo courtesy of    Le Meridien Tampa

Photo courtesy of Le Meridien Tampa

Photo courtesy of    Carbone    New York

Photo courtesy of Carbone New York


Not only are people unlikely to return to a too-noisy restaurant, they may avoid it altogether once word gets out that it has bad acoustics. Yelp reviews and the Soundprint app are alerting diners who are sensitive to high noise levels to stay away from the worst offenders.

And although this complaint is by no means limited to the over-50 crowd, it’s commonly known that our ability to filter out background noise diminishes with age, often more noticeably after 50. Interestingly, one thing that tends to increase with age is our ability to afford pricey restaurants, (often more noticeably after the very last tuition payment has been made) so any restauranteur with an ambitious menu should be very clear about the demographic they’ll need to attract—and consistently maintain—after that first blush of trendiness and popularity fades.

Photo courtesy of    Moxy Times Square

Photo courtesy of Moxy Times Square

Photo courtesy of    Catch LA

Photo courtesy of Catch LA


In short, the strategic placement of acoustical surfaces in the design stage can make all the difference in the guest experience and ultimate long-term success of a restaurant.  Bad acoustics can lose money.

Which is a hard message for a restaurant designer to deliver when budget logic calls for maximizing the visual bang for the buck. In a world of tradeoffs, acoustical considerations often take a backseat to cosmetic priorities and other more tangible purchases. And after all, if there’s a chance noise won’t be an issue, most would opt to take a wait-and-see approach. But that can be financially risky, because applying sound abatement panels after a restaurant is finished is always more expensive (or much less effective) than incorporating them into the design before construction.

Fortunately, there are solutions available today that allow designers to specify natural materials with hidden sound-absorbing layers that are as stunning as they are functional.

  • Murano Acoustics is a leader in this field and has supplied wood panels that have been used to great effect as a decorative element in restaurants like Decades Rewind in Washington, DC:

Decades Rewind

Decades Rewind

And the Balboa Yacht Club in Corona del Mar, CA.

Balboa Yacht Club

Balboa Yacht Club


They offer all of the beauty and sustainability of regular wood panels while working double-duty to absorb and diffuse sound waves to create the optimum noise level for patron comfort.
In other words, acoustical panels no longer need to be viewed as an “extra”—they can instead be a key component of the look and feel of the space.

Good design means understanding the impact of surfaces on a space’s noise level. Visit the Murano Acoustics website to see more possibilities, or open the Murano Acoustics catalog on Steelyard to see all of their panel options and specs.

Sandy HughesComment