11 Sep Good Speech Communication is Possible in Restaurants, Even During A Pandemic
In the months since COVID-19 took over the news cycle, restaurants have adapted to stay open and observe the recommendations made by BC’s health authorities. At first, dine-in became take-out or delivery only. Now, with some restrictions lifted, dining-in is back as an option, although it’s one with fewer diners, while staff wear masks or stand behind Plexiglas shields.
While these measures help limit the spread of the virus, from an acoustical standpoint, masks and Plexiglas screens can sometimes make speech communication a real challenge. (Remember how the café staff mangled your name before the pandemic?)
Adding to this, recent studies show that speaking quietly can help limit the chance of transmission. Along with masks and Plexiglas shields, quiet voices can make understanding speech even more difficult for people who are already have hearing impairments. The good news? There are well known acoustical principles you can use at your restaurant or café to improve speech communication while also doing your part to limit the spread.
Turn down the music
Who doesn’t love yelling their way through a conversation? With COVID-19 cases on the rise, and many linked to nightclubs and bars, the province recently recommended that establishments keep music and television volumes at normal conversation levels—that’s about 60 to 70 dBA—to prevent patrons from having to yell at each other from close range. From an acoustical perspective, reducing background noise levels is an effective way to improve speech intelligibility within a space, and ensure people can speak quietly and still be understood.
Keep tables away from noise sources
As restaurants follow social distancing protocols, many tables have been left intentionally unoccupied. This makes it possible to keep seated areas away from noise sources. For example, locate the occupied tables as far away from music speakers or the kitchen area as possible.
Add acoustical absorption
There are a wide variety of acoustically absorptive products that reduce the sound bouncing around in a space. Including cleanable acoustical panels mounted upon the ceiling and walls that can reduce reverberant sound within a space and help lower the background noise levels.
Use physical barriers to control noise from external and internal sources
Some outdoor patios are loud because they’re close to a road. By installing a solid barrier, you can screen traffic noise and reduce the background noise levels on the patio. Inside a restaurant, physical barriers between booths creates the same effect, yet instead of traffic noise, barriers inside shield noise from other customers.
For some scenarios, such as ordering coffees or serving tables, masks and Plexiglas barriers are needed. In these situations, think about ways to apply non-verbal communication. Try displaying text on a computer screen or tablet to confirm orders. Or go old school and dust off the old chalk board.
At BKL, our acousticians have experience consulting on room acoustics for restaurants, bars, tasting rooms, pubs, cafes, and nightclubs. We can design acoustical treatments or noise mitigation, assess background noise levels, and help you create a plan to improve speech communication in your establishment. Whether you are renovating your existing space or setting up a new one, we can make it sound great. Contact us to learn more.
Want to read more about restaurant acoustics? Check out this post on how good acoustics can add ambiance in your restaurant.
Written by Brigette Martin