With sleek benches, soaring ceilings, and open-plan dining; the Nordic ‘minimalist’ look is popular with restaurant owners for a reason. The less-is-more approach to restaurant and bar design might look great, but has come with an unwelcome side effect: noise.

Without the traditional noise-absorbing elements such as a couches, thick walls, separate kitchens, and carpeted floors, the more vacuous spaces of modern dining are susceptible to echoing and heightened noise.

Soren Norgaard is the general manager of audio visual trade show Integrate, and is just one of the many industry experts warning against the minimalist decor as a potential detriment to business.

Noise is becoming more of a problem with some of the more modern restaurants with hard surfaces and open kitchens,” says Norgaard, “and with all the reflective surfaces, it’s going to contribute to the noise.”

So what about those who argue that a bit of noise is good for atmosphere?

“I think there is a time and place for that sort of atmosphere,” says Norgaard, “but that’s not if you’re in the mood for a nice conversation with your wife, you just end up looking at each other silently because you can’t hear!”

Whilst there’s nothing worse than a deathly quiet dining space, there’s a big difference between a dim chatter and background music, and a volume that ruins your experience.

From being able to hear your waiter read out the specials of the day to communicating your own dietary needs or questions, being able to have a calm conversation without yelling all contribute to having a relaxing dining experience.

But Norgaard is the first to admit that not all restaurant owners want to hear what he has to say.

“I had an interview with a Greek restaurant,” says Norgaard, “and the owner said, ‘In Greece, all our restaurants are noisy!’ They are all have hard surfaces – that’s what makes a Greek restaurant!”

Similarly, many restaurant and bar owners will be adamant that they want to keep their trendy minimalist design. Until a customer complains, a noisy space can sometimes go unnoticed. What Norgaard points out, however, is that the volume in your venue might not just be a deterrent to future customers – it could be causing your current customers actual physical damage.

In his research, Norgaard found out that the noise level in some of the nosier venues exceeded 100 decibels. For comparison sake, in an industrial work situation you would be required to wear hearing protection with that kind of noise.

According to Restaurant and Catering Australia, the average noise levels in restaurants range between 50 and 90 decibels. In 2011 they applied to Worksafe Australia to raise the allowable limit from the current 75 to 100 decibels. They were unsuccessful. According to Worksafe Australia, 100 decibels could be seen as the equivalent of standing close to a power drill.

If you want to know more about reducing noise levels in your venue, take a look at our article Turn down the noise

So, how can you avoid a similar fate to the minimalist-style venues?

Norgaard says that it’s all about keeping some sort of noise-absorbing materials in your design. If you are wanting to go with all hard surfaces, think about what kind of panelling you could install in the walls, or whether or not you can split out the noisy sections (like the kitchen or waiting area) into walled-off spaces.

“When you’re designing or retrofitting a restaurant, look at some of the fittings you’re putting in there,” recommends Norgaard. “Have some soft furnishings, have some acoustic dampening panels, and have some materials that are going to absorb that white noise within your setting.”

If you are still in the process of designing your space, Norgaard can’t stress enough how important it is to engage industry experts to help with noise reduction. From finding the right level of music, to designing different spaces for different functions, consulting someone in the know is going to be crucial.

If you’re still unsure on how much noise is too much noise in your venue, check out our article finding balance in your venue’s noise for tips on avoiding an uncomfortable atmosphere.