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The mission for food service (hospitality) probably needs to include meeting the customers’ expectations for both the food and drink and for the social aspects of a shared experi- ence. Hospitality covers a wide range of establishments, so accordingly we can anticipate that the expectations will be rather broad, which is why this particular segment of the building market is more difficult to define and as yet not adequately addressed in terms of acoustic comfort.
Service and Expectations!
In the case of an upscale restaurant, one’s expectations are for great food and a quiet acoustic environment that allows for casual conversation. After all, the diner is often there with friends and family or is trying to conduct business. However, when one heads off to a “fast food” restaurant or diner, the expectation is for good food and not too stressful commu- nication because one is there primarily to eat and to take a break from life. But when one is at a bar, the expectation is to communicate in a loud voice at close range and maybe even communicating by “text” as opposed to “voice” because the primary expectation is usually the entertainment. But even within these examples, “a bar... is not a bar... is not a bar,” means, for example, that a hotel bar at the Marriott carries different expectations than the bar at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.
You have probably heard the saying that “restaurants man- agers want their property to sound loud and busy because it’s good for business.” Really? Activity noise is, of course, expected with high occupancy, but does it need to be unman- ageably noisy? In fact, many people walk out of restaurants and bars on occasion because the establishments were either so loud that it was uncomfortable due to the noise level (it hurts!) or too loud because the diner wanted to have a con- versation with friends across the table.
So then, what is the mission that a food service facility needs to meet, especially with reference to acoustic comfort? We know that there are noise problems because there is dissatis- faction and complaints relative to acoustic comfort, and these are being communicated by the restaurant rating services such as provided by The Washington Post ( or Yelp, and these now include comments on the noise envi- ronment, at least as a subjective rating such as “quiet or noisy.”
And we can expect even more comments about the noise envi- ronment because simple smart-phone apps such a SoundPrint are now available and allow anyone to make a noise reading on-site and in real time (some apps are reasonably accurate) in
decibel noise level. Surely, the owners do not consider losing customers due to unmet expectations on noise to be a good thing for business; now do they?
Customer Wants and Needs
And what is it that we want: good food, good drink, a pleasant environment, and the appropriate level of acoustic comfort to meet the needs for a specific choice of establishment. Here is a short list of some possibilities:
• A restful environment after a day of hard concentration (low-noise annoyance, quiet music);
• The need to have casual conversation for business or personal matters (moderate noise level, good speech intelligibility, and adequate speech privacy); or
• A wish to enjoy social interactions with sports or music entertainment (significant sound level OK, limited direct conversations OK).
Acoustic factors such as noise level, reverberation, speech intelligibility, speech privacy, and sound quality are all part of the acoustic environment and relate to architectural fac- tors including the size, shape, and surface treatments in each building space.
Architecture and Acoustics
As we have learned in the design and performance of offices, schools, and health care, architecture has a strong impact on the acoustics of any building space, and this holds for the hos- pitality industry as well. The architectural design (size, shape, and surfaces) of each building space determines the clarity of speech at any point within a room, and the level of background noise in conjunction with the speech clarity will determine the intelligibility of speech (think schools; see ANSI/ASA S12.60, 2010; Brill et al., 2018).
So, what do we know specifically about the relationship between architecture and acoustics in restaurants? Many times, restaurants suffer from excessive loudness and reverberation, harsh reflections, and echoes. But architectural acoustics (the science of sound as it pertains to buildings; Sabine, 1922) is a bit of an enigma because most restaurant patrons and owners don’t know that there can be a way to solve their noise prob- lems because they are not even aware that this is a field of study and that engineering solutions are available.
A starting point used to analyze the acoustic environment of restaurants is to calculate the average midfrequency absorption coefficient of the space. The midfrequency content of human
Spring 2020S, uSpmemciaerl I2s0s1u9e | Acoustics Today | 521 Reprinted from volume 15, issue 2

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