Polished concrete and hard surfaces may be all the rage for today’s cafes and restaurants but, according to Flinders University researchers, the accompanying noise levels are reducing people’s enjoyment of food.
Restaurant noise such as people’s conversations, which typically get louder as they compete with those around them, is the main culprit, along with adjacent traffic noise.
Flinders University PhD candidate Mahmoud Alamir has led a laboratory study that replicated common noise levels in restaurants for 15 participants.
“In our study we replicated levels lower than the actual levels in some restaurants in Adelaide, or in some other countries like China and Canada,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Afternoons program.
“We found that even at normal noise levels, noise can have a bad effect on your dining experience.”
The study investigated the impact of three different noise types — road traffic noise, restaurant noise and relaxing music — at 30, 40 and 50 A-weighted decibels (dBA), which is a measurement of sound as perceived by the human ear.
Using an 11-point Likert scale to rate participants’ responses, the study found that restaurant and traffic noise at all levels reduced people’s enjoyment of food, but it tasted worse the louder those noises became.
On the flipside, however, the paper found that relaxing music increased people’s food enjoyment — by 60 per cent at 30dBA, and by 38 per cent at 40dBA.
Further study found that older people and females reported a lower enjoyment of food under restaurant and traffic noise scenarios, but different people had different rates of noise sensitivity.
“We do not always recognise the cumulative effect of noise to our stress or annoyance levels, but we see how every one of us has sensitivity to noise in different ways,” Mr Alamir said.
Feedback from listeners to ABC Radio Adelaide suggested the study reconfirmed their own experiences.
“I’ve always hated noisy restaurants, even when young,” Jayne texted.
“I can’t enjoy [it] in a noisy restaurant — so many places are noisy. Get carpet.”
“We have to choose a restaurant without music and some kind of noise reduction, i.e., carpet. Glad to know it’s not just that we are older,” K wrote.
“I’m a 54-year-old female [and] hate noisy restaurants, especially when they have tiled or concrete floors. Everything is amplified.”
Mr Alamir said the study offered some solutions to restaurants, which included providing different areas for noise-sensitive people or older people.
“Another solution is to design the restaurant so that the noise doesn’t reach the levels that make you annoyed so you don’t enjoy the food,” he said.
The study’s co-author and Flinders University acoustic engineer, Kirsty Hansen, said restaurants could create better dining experiences for customers by implementing noise-management strategies.
Dr Hansen said this could include “more practical acoustic designs” to suit different groups of people.