Acoustics

Finally, restaurateurs think about how noise affects taste

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

Betsy Andrews, SevenFiftyDaily, reports on “[n]ew research [that] is causing restaurant and bar owners to rethink noise control in their venues.” Andrews writes about Jim Meehan, a forward thinking bar owner, who “wanted a place where he could hear.” So Meehan hired Scott McNiece, the founder of the Chicago-based company Uncanned Music, who designs acoustics for restaurants.

The result was a space where “[t]he muted sound helps patrons relax and focus, not only on their companions but on Meehan’s cocktails.”  Meehan is pleased as is his business partner, Kevin Heisner, who believes noise “dings not just moods but palates.”  And Andrews dives into the world of the science of dining, introducing us to the researchers who are discovering that noise does affect taste.

But the most exciting bit of news from the piece comes at the end, when Andrews speaks to Dallas architect Rick Carrell, whose firm has designed spaces for large chain clients like Panera Bread and Starbucks. Carrell tells Andrews that, “[c]lients are very concerned with noise now. They don’t see it as a motivator like they did 10 years ago.”

Thank goodness.  It’s about time.

Click the link above to read the entire article.

The open plan layout will encourage collaboration, they said

Photo credit: Elliott Brown licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sadly, the reality is quite different: Francis Crick Institute’s £700m building ‘too noisy to concentrate.’

Robert Booth, The Guardian, writes about the £700 million “cathedral to biomedical science” that was designed with the goal of having “scientists work together to make breakthroughs in cancer, neuroscience, pandemics and genetics.” Unfortunately, following the herd lemming-like has resulted in the following:

A year after opening, some of the 1,250 people working at the Crick Institute, in its central London laboratory, have complained that the open plan design, intended to assist informal collaboration, means some areas set aside for thinking and writing up research are too noisy.

When will this open plan madness end? People who think for a living need some quiet. Not library quiet–if such a thing even exists anymore–but the kind of quiet that allows them to concentrate. You know, so they can do their work. And mind you, the work the researchers and scientists are doing at the Crick Institute is important stuff, not another startup making an app to do something no one really needs.

In any event, we can think of 700,000,000 reasons why the open plan concept needs to die. Stop buying into the collaboration myth and let people do their work.

Good news for New Yorkers who love to dance

But potentially bad news for bar neigbors: After 91 Years, New York Will Let Its People Boogie.  Annie Correal, The New York Times, writes about the repeal of the law that banned dancing in New York City bars. While this repeal is great news for bar owners and patrons with happy feet, it may not be embraced by near by residents looking for a good night’s sleep. So what should a bar owner do to let her customers dance the night away without disturbing the peace?

The City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has the answer. DEP has produced a video that should help bar owners learn how to mitigate noise levels before they roll out the dance floor:

And the DEP helpfully has provided a list of noise control products and services available for all nightlige business owners.

Now let’s hope bar owners show some restraint–or spend some dough on sound insulation–in their rush to create a dance floor. If not, one hopes the next city council bill will be to give the DEP funding to hire more noise inspectors.

Clever hacks for dealing with noise

in your home. Louise Smithers, D’Marge, writes about various tricks and design choices you can employ to keep noise to a minimum in your castle.  While some options are obvious–use rugs and say yes to drapes–others are a bit more novel, like using attractive fabric covered acoustic panels to add visual interest and noise reduction to your space. While no one suggestion will likely solve every situation, Smithers’ list is a good place to start.

Click the link above to read for the full list of options.

Where is the quietest place on earth?

 

Not this one, but close | Photo credit: Max Alexander / PromoMadrid licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A room within Orfield Laboratories Inc. in south Minneapolis, according to Steve Orfield, 69, the lab’s longtime owner. Jenna Ross, Star Tribune, writes about the silence in the anechoic chamber at Orfiled Laboratories and how the silence gives way to the sounds of our bodies, leading visitors to “suddenly hear their blood flow, their inner ears buzz, their artificial heart valves click.”

Orfield’s chamber was originally used to help companies understand “how people experience the look and sound of their products,” but now it has a higher and better use: seeing how the room “might help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and other hypersensitivities.”

Click the link above to read this fascinating article.

 

Who is to blame for noisy restaurants?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noisy restaurants seem to be in the news these days. Almost every week, The Quiet Coalition comes across another article or television report about them. This piece from the Daily Mail is one of the few that provides names and numbers–the names of the restaurants and actual decibel readings from a sound level meter–and the sound levels they reported were loud enough to damage hearing.

What can you do to protect yourself? You don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud (although we encourage everyone to install one on a smart phone–very accurate ones are available). The auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 A-weighted decibels (dBA). If you have to strain to speak or to hear while trying to have a normal conversation at 3-to-4 feet distance–the usual social distance for speaking or dining in the U.S.–the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, and your hearing is being damaged.

And once it’s gone, the only remedy is hearing aids.

So who is to blame for noisy restaurants? This report from Australia doesn’t blame anyone in particular, but suggests the culprit is minimalist design trends. We would add that crowded dining areas, low ceilings, and, of course, background music turned up to rock concert levels do not help.

Before the mass adoption of the industrial look in restaurant design, restaurants used to be carpeted, with drapery covering the windows, upholstered banquettes lining the walls, and white tablecloths covering every table. One went to a restaurant to dine and to converse. It is obvious that design trends have changed dramatically over the last two decades or so. Newer restaurant designs with open kitchens that allow the clanging of pots and pans to be heard in the dining area and hard floor and wall surfaces (e.g., glass, metal, polished cement, and tile) that reflect rather than absorb sound are certainly part of the problem.

As a result, restaurant noise is now the leading complaint of diners in many cities, according to the 2016 Zagat annual survey, and just barely in second place nationally, slightly behind bad service. As the twelve-step programs might say: First, you have to accept that you have a problem.

The important thing is that the problem of restaurant noise is finally being recognized, and now that we know that restaurant noise is a problem, we can start doing something about it. Some have suggested avoiding noisy restaurants or walking out if the restaurant is too noisy. But that isn’t a realistic choice in most cities. If one did that, one would never go to a restaurant. Instead, ask the manager to turn down the volume of amplified music, and if he or she refuses, tell them that you are leaving and will never return, and that you will tell everyone you know to avoid the place. Tell your city council and mayor that you want quieter restaurants. And post accurate and detailed reviews on Yelp, Open Table, and social media. Let the restaurant owner or manager, and those who read restaurant reviews on social media, know that “the food was excellent, but the place was so loud that we are never going back.”

If enough of us complain and demand quieter spaces, then restaurateurs will have to respond. Or they can ignore us at their peril.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Noisy restaurants in the news again

Photo credit: Matt Biddulph licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Two reports this week, one from the United Kingdom and one from Baton Rouge, again highlight the problem of noisy restaurants.

Restaurateurs say that a quiet restaurant is a dead or dying one. They want their places to be lively. But there’s a difference between a lively restaurant with spirited conversations going on among the diners, and one that is deafeningly loud, making it impossible to converse with one’s dining companions.

Yesterday, while looking for another piece of information in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) classic 1974 “Noise Levels Report” Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety (EPA, 1974). I came across Table D-10, which I had missed on an earlier reading.

EPA Recommended Acceptable Noise Levels for Restaurants  (Click to enlarge)

It turns out that the EPA recommends that restaurants be very quiet, only about 50-60 decibels. These days, that’s almost “library quiet”. In fact, some months ago I measured the sound level to be approximately 45 dBA in the main circulation room of my local library!

So concern about appropriate restaurant noise levels is not a new concern. It’s decades old.

Some have suggested that diners should walk out of noisy restaurants, or boycott them. But in many cities, if we did that, we would never eat in a restaurant. There just aren’t any quiet ones. And as long as the restaurants are full, there is no incentive for them to become quieter.

I don’t know about the UK, but in the U.S., lawsuits under disability rights laws may be the only way restaurants will become quieter.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Noisy restaurants redux

Photo credit: James Palinsad licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Both my parents served in the U.S. Army in World War II, met while in the service, and married shortly after the war ended. I was born a few years later. So I am a “baby boomer,” but I’m not a regular reader of BOOMER Magazine. That said, this article in BOOMER Magazine about noisy restaurants clearly defines the issue, even as it fails to deliver the right solutions.

The article talks about the heartbeat of a restaurant, i.e., the unique ambience. Unfortunately, in many restaurants that heartbeat is far too loud. The problem is that many baby boomers have significant (25-40 decibel) hearing loss, which makes it impossible to understand speech in a noisy environment. And in many cases, noise levels in restaurants and bars are loud enough to cause further hearing loss, discomfort, and even pain.

Many of us boomers are in our mid to late 60s. We may think of ourselves as “forever young,” but the reality is that (with graying and/or thinning hair, thickening middles, and bifocals) we are not the “demographic” that marketers and retailers want, even if many of us have a lot more money and a lot more time in which to spend it that younger people do. For many baby boomers our mortgages are paid off, the kids are done with college, and we’ve funded our retirements. And members of this demographic are looking for restaurants in which we can enjoy a meal AND a conversation with family and friends. But as long as the restaurants are busy–and they sure were in west Los Angeles last night–the restaurateurs and barkeeps have no reason to make things quieter.

This December I will be speaking on the disability rights aspects of ambient noise at the meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in New Orleans. It’s my position that the answer to excessive restaurant noise isn’t eating earlier, or choosing a quieter restaurant (a near impossibility in many cities, including mine), or grinning and bearing it, as BOOMER Magazine suggests, it’s making restaurants quieter. In many cases, this doesn’t cost anything: just turn down–or turn off–the music!

I’m a doctor with tinnitus and hyperacusis, not a lawyer. But it seems to me that those of us with partial hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of having a disability. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” If I’m correct, ADA regulations should require “places of public accommodation”–including restaurants and bars–to be quiet enough to allow those with auditory disorders to converse while enjoying a meal or a drink. That is, people with partial hearing loss, tinnitus, and/or hyperacusis should be protected under the ADA.

For those concerned that indoor quiet laws will hurt business, I turn to the example of no-smoking laws that were imposed on restaurants and bars. Restaurant proprietors and especially bar owners foresaw calamity, but a multitude of studies showed no impact on revenues. My guess is that if some smokers chose not to go to restaurants or bars, they were replaced by those who didn’t want a side order of secondhand smoke with their steak frites. Or the smokers learned to smoke before or after dinner, or to step outside if they wanted to smoke. And that’s what I predict will happen when indoor quiet laws are passed: diners will still go to restaurants, maybe even more of them.

Until reason prevails and restaurants are required to meet reasonable decibel limits, we must ask restaurant owners and managers to turn down the volume.  And if they want our business, they will do it. But what if our requests fall on deaf ears? The next step may be pursuing legal remedies under the ADA to require restaurants to provide a soundscape that protects everyone’s ears.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

How can you quiet noisy spaces?

Photo credit: Suguru Yamamoto licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s designers and engineers to the rescue, with the development of new materials and systems to improve the sound quality of public spaces and work environments. Danish textile company Kvadrat has developed a three-dimensional acoustic textile panel system that is meant to “bring ‘softness’ to minimalist spaces.” Kvadrat Soft Cells is a modular system, in which “[e]ach panel comprises a recycled aluminium frame filled with acoustic foam, which can be covered with a wide range of Kvadrat textiles.” Their approach helps architects working with free-form surfaces in a wide variety of different shapes, “which enables architects to design spaces with very specific acoustic properties.” Says design director Jesper Nielsen, “[w]ith this very open and lightweight construction you have the possibility to adjust the absorptive qualities of the surface between absorption, reflection and diffusion.”

Another breakthrough in sound abatement is the development of a sound absorbing material called Basotect®. Developed by BASF, Basotect® “is made from the chemicals melamine and formaldehyde which usually react to form a hard plastic,” but BASF “added a ‘blowing agent’ that turns to gas and creates bubbles inside the polymer.” Basotect® has some “interesting properties”:

As well as being a thermal insulator, it has the remarkable ability to turn sound into heat. The mechanism is simple. Sound waves are better able to enter its open cell structure than a closed cell. Inside the material, the waves set the polymer strands vibrating, heating them up. This heat then radiates away.

So how effective is Basotect®  at absorbing sound?  According to the New Scientist, it:

[H]elped improve the sound quality in Beijing’s swimming stadium built for the 2008 Olympics. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York utilized it to create an immersive installation called PSAD Synthetic Desert III by artist Doug Wheeler where visitors can escape the sounds of the city….

In the best of all worlds, we would control noise at the outset so that mitigation would be unnecessary. Sadly, that world does not exist. For us, we must turn to designers and engineers to design materials that absorb and diffuse sound and make public spaces and workplaces hearing friendly.