The Book of Acoustics

8.0 Commercial applications

8.5 Dining rooms

The primary function of a restaurant or cafe is to serve as a place where people can meet, socialise and enjoy culinary experiences. While some ambient noise is desirable, a balance needs to achieved where guests can feel immersed in the unique atmospheric buzz of the restaurant while also being able to converse comfortably with the people at their table and enjoy the taste sensations from the food they are served.

In a restaurant, the same characteristic sounds that are desirable become irritating when they are too loud. Conversations from neighbouring tables, activities in the kitchen, music playing from speakers can quickly amplify to intolerable levels if there is too much reflection in a space. And the louder it gets, the higher people raise their voices in order to hear one another. One survey found that noise is the second most common complaint among restaurant guests. Research demonstrates that background noise and loud music not only make it difficult for diners to communicate with one another. It can actually impair their ability to taste food and drink.

Conversely, a good acoustic environment and the right kinds of sounds have been shown to enhance and complement the dining experience and the taste of food and drink. In fact, restaurants that have excessive absorption can be just as uncomfortable, making the room feel lifeless and boring. Some ambient noise adds to the atmosphere and table privacy.

Design strategies

  • During space planning, separate high activity areas like the kitchen, bar and bathroom from the dining area.
  • Add absorption materials to the walls and ceilings of open dining areas
  • Add space between tables and booths
  • Break up and dampen sound with physical barriers
  • Keep noisy kitchen appliances away from guests in the dining area
  • Reconsider open kitchens. Adding a glass wall can still give the look of an open kitchen without the noise
  • Add soft tips and pads to the bottom of tables and chairs
  • Use sound absorbing fabrics and soft furnishings
  • Separate larger groups of diners from tables for smaller groups
  • Add a sound masking system that can be adjusted depending on the number of guests
Space function:

Design goal:

Socialising and gastronomic pleasure Create a balance where both intimate table conversation and the atmospheric buzz of the restaurant can coexist
Target reverberation time:

Maximum noise rating level:

0.6-1.0 (fine dining to casual restaurant) NR 40

The Book of Acoustics

This is a handbook for architects and interior designers who want to create acoustically beautiful spaces that make people feel happier, healthier and more productive.