Sound Advice

Successful restaurants offer the holy trinity of good food, good service, and good ambience. Design can influence all three, but botch the ambience, and you’ll be forever fighting a battle against your own eatery. Perhaps the most common folly is poor acoustics. Conversations drowned out by the general din can ruin even the most handsomely appointed restaurant.

“Acoustics characterize a space as much as lighting, color, and scale,” says designer Peter Bentel of Bentel & Bentel. And if the ideal is an interior that engenders a pleasant, energetic buzz, not the high-pitched racket of a late-night bar, many restaurants fall wide of the mark.

Acoustics are generally easier to manage with smaller rooms. “Any room with more than 100 people is hard to control; they make a lot of noise,” says Cass Calder Smith, of CCS Architects in California. “The key is to keep the pitch low. One trick is to incorporate acoustic panels on the ceiling.”

Designers have devised all manner of other noise-dampening techniques: “At Mazzo restaurant in Amsterdam, we created large canvas artworks, which function as good acoustic baffles,” says Rob Wagemans of Concrete Architectural Associates. “You can also use a latex stretch ceiling as a membrane with foam beneath—–it resembles a smooth plastered ceiling.” Making a regular space irregular also helps, but because one can’t always alter a space, consider making two perpendicular walls absorptive. If you can’t beat the sound, you can at least shape it.

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