WHY ARE SOME RESTAURANTS SO LOUD AND LIVELY?

On your search for a quieter venue, you most probably noticed that the vast majority of restaurants are quite loud and lively. It might be surprising to hear that this is generally a purposeful decision by the venue, and for many, a lively restaurant isn’t a bad thing, but rather they will actively seek it out.

 

Of course, if you have difficulty hearing speech in background noise, and want to have easy conversation with people at the table, a lively venue is probably not the one for you! There have been many articles written by journalists over the years querying why so many restaurants have the need to make their venues so loud…well, there is in fact a reason for it, and it’s based on science!

 

 

  1. A Lively Atmosphere Creates an Electrifying Vibe

The sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight response) kicks in when background noise reaches about 72dB(A). This is roughly about the same volume that water rushing in the shower makes, and is the approximate volume where you feel the need to raise your voice to be heard over the background noise. When the noise is not perceived as a threat or annoyance, “nor-adrenaline” is released (1). This is a hormone that can:

  • Increase your blood pressure
  • Release blood sugar into your blood
  • Increase blood flow to your muscles
  • Increase your alertness
  • Speed up your reaction time

Nor-adrenaline is continually released into the circulation to increase and maintain blood pressure. That means that when the noise level is not perceived as a threat, nor-adrenaline gives you a buzz, and creates a vibe that the place you are at is pumping with great atmosphere.

 

  1. To Attract a Younger Crowd

Some people like restaurants to be louder for a range of reasons, and this often skews towards wanting to attract a younger crowd. Younger people often aren’t as bothered by louder noise, whereas more mature people will often just turn and leave. This helps restauranteurs maintain a youthful vibe and image (2). Shops also do this as loud music draws in the teenagers (the age they are targeting), and keeps older people out. It’s well known that if you want to attract younger customers, you play a certain type of sound (music). This creates an environment that make them feel like they’re in a club, and encourages them to stay longer and spend more money in the store (even though the adult staff might be hiding in the stock room away from the noise) (2).

 

 

  1. Faster Eating, More Drinking, and Quicker Turnover

Some research has shown that people drink more when the music is loud, and chew faster when the tempo is sped up (2). Roughly 125 BPM is the perfect tempo for turning tables quickly, because the louder and faster the music is, the less people talked, the faster they ate, the more they drank while at the table, and then faster they left. This means a restaurant can increase the number of tables they seat and diners they serve, and do it quicker to maximise revenue. Many licensed venues also make the biggest profit selling alcohol, so when patrons drink more, it’s good for the bottom line!

  1. Perception Is Key

A lively restaurant is a busy or vibrant restaurant; which for many equates to the idea that, therefore it must be popular, and that ‘means’ it must be good. This is also a marketing tactic many venues rely on to draw more potential customers in. Emptier restaurants often seat their first diners of the evening in the window, so when you walk by you can see them and think about eating – clever stuff! Also, consider when you travel overseas where you might not know which restaurants or venues are the best. Many guidebooks and travel advice suggest to go where it is busy, because this often indicates that:

  • The food is fresher, because it being consumed quickly
  • Fresh food is better (and safer to avoid food poisoning)
  • Many people returning means the food is also tasty and good
  1. Modern Design Challenges

Although not all venues create a louder, livelier atmosphere on purpose, modern design and a changing world does make it more challenging to offer a consistently quieter restaurant. Why?

  • Open plan kitchens are trendy. You know, the cafés or restaurants where you can hear (and even see) the clinking plates and buzz of the chefs in the kitchen
  • Large communal “share” tables are an easy way for restaurants to leave space for solo diners or large groups without bookings, without having to change other table arrangements to accommodate them,
  • Wooden floor and tables without linen coverings causes sound to echo, rather than be absorbed
  • Modern, open plan layouts where the restaurant and bar “merge’ into a single space, venues with high exposed ceilings, or live music and no curtains might be visually pleasant, but not for your ears!

  1. Sanitary Considerations

Hard surfaces are easier to clean and more convenient post Covid-19 where sanitising and infection control are even more integral. There are a few elements associated with this that create a recipe for a noisy environment: Floors without carpet, plus seats that no longer have cushions, no tablecloths and seats that scrape on hard floors = sound ricocheting around an echoey room, which adds to the noise.

  1. Costly Acoustic Solutions

Many sound minimising treatments are expensive and don’t look as aesthetically pleasing. As a venue owner, making sure your restaurant is acoustically and visually appealing can be an expensive exercise. Many restauranteurs (95% of which are small businesses) cannot afford to invest in good acoustics to minimise loud sounds.

  1. No one wants to eat in a Library Vibe

We are used to living with noise every day: traffic noise, background music, kids playing…the list goes on. Many of us have become desensitized to how loud the world is these days. Quiet is now such a rare thing, that now minimal noise, or no noise at all, can make people feel uncomfortable. Imagine you are at a party and the music suddenly stops and the lights come on – it is slightly unnerving and a sign that the party is over and it is time to go home (think of the song Closing Time).

But What About Those Who Crave Quiet?

What if you are bothered by noise? One persons ‘vibe’ is another ‘noise’. What effect does it have on your body, and why does it make you want to leave when you enter a lively venue? You guessed it – again, the answer is scientific:

The Physiological Stress of Noise

When we find a noise to be annoying, or when it is an unknown noise (like when you think you hear someone in your backyard at night) adrenaline is released. Nor-adrenaline and adrenaline together create your fight or flight reflex.

It does all the above things as well as:

  • Increases your heart rate
  • Increases the rate of your breathing

This also causes the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. This curbs functions that you don’t need so you can save all your energy for the fight or flight situation (when you’re fighting for your life). This in turn:

  • Suppresses your immune function
  • Suppresses your digestive system
  • Suppresses your reproductive and growth processes
  • Regulates mood, motivation and fear

Excess cortisol can lead to:

  • Anxiety
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Concentration issues

Sound familiar? I know I have personally experienced all these things when I am in a lively restaurant and straining to hear. After a while it is exhausting, and I give up and eat my food and try to catch what conversation I can. When I said earlier that the moment you need to raise your voice is the moment this phenomenon kicks in, there are exceptions. This isn’t an exact volume reading for when these feelings of annoyance towards the noise, and the stress response associated with it, may kick in. It can also kick in at a lower noise level if you are bothered enough by it.

 

This is why we are guiding people to find a restaurant based on their noise preference, so everyone has a choice when dining out. You shouldn’t feel like you have to withdraw from it all together and by supporting the quiet and lower noise restaurants in Australia you can enjoy the experience again! Unfortunately, these venues do appear to be a minority, which is even more reason as to why they need our support!

Summary

  • Although one of the main goals of a restaurant is to serve delicious food and have us become raving fans, a consequence of this is that it can be noisy.
  • We don’t just go out to eat, but also to be social. We go out to enjoy the company of others, and relax after a long day.
  • That often causes us to raise our voices ourselves as we want to be heard. It is not an accident; a lively venue is the product of a business that wants us to have a good time – it just depends on who they are targeting.
  • So yes, some restaurants do purposely make their venues lively; it depends on their target audience and how they want to run their business. Whether they are trying to attract a young crowd, or turn tables over quicker, that is their choice as it is their business.
  • When I started this project, I wanted to guide people to quiet restaurants where they could have a conversation, but since then, I’ve found some people are using the webapp to find a lively venue purposely. I was surprised people were purposely sought out a venue where they have to scream to be heard in… but there is a scientific reason for it.
  • If the venue is lively, they have designed it that way for a reason.
  • But now you have a choice, go with the majority which are lively, or choose a conversation friendly eatery. Ambient Menu Accredited eateries such as Aurora, Foliage, Hut and Soul, Psari and She Shells have designed their restaurant especially to support conversation.
  • Thanks to the Ambient Menu, you now can choose ahead of time, which ambience level you prefer.

Bon Appetit!

Updated: 5 June 2023

Author: Laura Drexler

Creator of Ambient Menu

Masters of Audiology, Bachelor of Health Science

Presenter: Audiology Australia SA Chapter Conference 2023, Flinders University 2023, SA Gerontology Conference SA 2022, Audiology Unchained (Independent Audiology Australia) 2023

Awards: Audiology Australia Internship Award, Flinders University Early Career Alumni Award, Help Awards AMP Healthcare Hero.

Written for: SA Life, 50 So What, Grandparents Magazine

References

(1)    Goyal, S., Gupta, V. and Walia, L., 2010. Effect of noise stress on autonomic function tests. Noise and Health, 12(48), p.182.

(2)    Nytimes.com. 2021. Working or Playing Indoors, New Yorkers Face an Unabated Roar (Published 2012). [online] Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/nyregion/in-new-york-city-indoor-noise-goes-unabated.html>

(3)    Sivakumaran K, Ritonja JA, Waseem H, AlShenaibar L, Morgan E, Ahmadi SA, Denning A, Michaud DS, Morgan RL. Impact of Noise Exposure on Risk of Developing Stress-Related Health Effects Related to the Cardiovascular System: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Noise Health 2022;24:107-29


1 comment

  1. Bananagirl
    Friday 21 July 20232023-07-21 17:47:28

    Very interesting Ms Drex. Thank you. It’s no wonder I end up with a tummy ache in loud cafes!


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