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Back to overview March 13, 2019

Creating tranquil soundscapes in bars and restaurants: an insider look

The sound of success

There are many factors contributing to the success of a restaurant. Your interior design can be beautiful, with carefully chosen decor, fabulous smells, fantastic service and, it goes without saying, great food.

All of these make-or-break factors can be under control, and even then it’s the little things that make a big difference.

In this post we’ll be looking at the research done on restaurant noise levels.

We will also give actionable advice on how to balance out the acoustics to make your bar or restaurant space as inviting as possible using upholstery, wall panels, and padding.

Yellow fabric from FR-One's Lithology collection

Reining in the noise levels of your bar or restaurant space

If your guests are greeted by a wall of noise they might just turn the other way immediately and walk out. Nobody likes trying to enjoy a meal in a restaurant with the acoustics of a swimming pool.

One way to take back control of the (rising?) noise levels and even the quality of that noise in your restaurant is to start thinking about acoustics.

One straightforward way to so this is to look to your furniture itself, such as booths and bar cladding, while also thinking about the walls, the ceiling, and even under the tables.

Check out our tips for designing with neutrals

Read on for practical tips to make your restaurant acoustically friendly.

Are restaurants getting louder? Possibly.

In the USA this year, diners reported that noise is the most bothersome thing about going to a restaurant (at 24%), followed by service (23%), crowds (15%), high prices (12%), and parking (10%).

Balancing your restaurant acoustics

Help, however, is at hand, and in comes in the form of what’s called acoustic design.

Primarily dealing with acoustically absorbing material, acoustic design has branched out into other areas, now developing sound reflecting material as well.

The thing about it as well is that you can apply as much or as little acoustic material as you want, thus controlling the acoustic qualities of your space.

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To avoid the continuing reverberation of sound, placing acoustic material into your space is your best bet.

This is what we were talking about earlier when we said it was time to look to the walls: they’re critical areas of open space that naturally amplify sound.

Cover open wall spaces with upholstered wall panels

Upholstered walls make a bold statement regardless of colour or whether there’s a striking pattern used in the fabric or not.

Check out softsound, the fabulous work of interior designer Anna Spakowska using acoustic panels to extraordinary effect.

Evolving from the use of tapestries in centuries past, wall upholstery is both visually striking and aurally important, as it absorbs and reflects sound. We therefore recommend to bar and restaurant owners that they think about upholstering not only the booths and the floor, but also the walls.

It doesn’t have to be every wall, as even a single statement wall of boldly coloured upholstery panels can make a big difference in terms of sound levels.

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We would advise going with fabrics like velvet, as it has a denser pile and is therefore more sound-absorbent, but perhaps to think twice about using jacquard velvet, as there are variations in pile density in it and it might not be as sound absorbent as a plain flat velvet might be.

Velvet and textured fabrics (check out Moon in pewter and Lazarus in mineral) are the simplest solution here.

Upholstery works on ceilings, too

Our second tip for you today is not to forget the ceiling when you’re thinking about upholstery panels and sound absorption.

The middle of the last century was the heyday of sumptuous upholstery, and ceilings were no exception to this rule.

You could go with something bold (statement ceilings are a thing after all) taking a leaf from the ‘sumptuous dining in the 1960s’ playbook, or you could break up the block colour by using a pattern.

Check out our post 6 restaurant interior design trends you need to know about for 2019 for extra ideas

If you’re a bit wary of bold, bright colours: fear not.

You could by all means use upholstered panels on your ceiling but in neutral, more organic colourscapes (we’d suggest something textured but natural, like our Gloria from the Genova collection, available in sesame or poudre).

Bonus tip: padding under your dining tables. Seriously.

It might seem a little strange, but under-table padding is a rising trend in restaurant interior design and for good reason: it works.

Padding under the tables is an invisible way to add sound absorbing material to your bar or restaurant, should you not want to go with the ‘visible upholstery panels’ option.

Under-table padding doesn’t have to be boring. Brightening things up with metallic tones or using plum and blue shades could give your guests a pleasant surprise.

The way it works is that sound that is reflected up from wooden or tiled floors will bounce back against the padding under the tables, thus controlling the acoustics of your space.

La Gare restaurant, 19 Chaussée de la Muette, 75016 Paris

Under-table padding is quick and easy to fit, requiring no downtime for application and little consideration for colour or pattern.

What else can you put fabric on?

Aside from more unusual options like walls and ceilings, there are other areas in bars and restaurants that are no strangers to upholstery.

We’re talking about booths, the bars themselves, free-standing chairs, couches, half-walls, dividers: you name it, it can and has been upholstered.

Open your creative mind and you might be surprised by what inspires you! What ideas have you been having to regulate the noise levels in your space? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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