The noise level is often less taken into account in the design of restaurants

When Jaime Ortiz was working with architects and designers to create Sea Smoke Waterfront Grill, which Ortiz opened in early December in the Starbuck Island development in Green Island, the team considered how the restaurant would sound almost as carefully as it ‘how it would look.

Now, after nearly a month of serving customers, Sea Smoke appears to be performing acoustically almost as expected, Ortiz said. The restaurant will get its biggest test on Friday night when, like restaurants across the region, it is teeming with New Year’s revelers.

Sound levels are invisible and also subjective, and individual customer preferences differ. A volume considered a loud cry for some can be pleasantly lively for others. Additionally, expectations vary depending on the setting and the occasion: volume in a trendy, youth-oriented place would likely be deemed unacceptable in an intimate bistro, and diners usually want a different vibe on New Year’s Eve. Year that Valentine’s Day. But restaurant owners know that customers unhappy with the noise levels in restaurants will be as likely to voice their dissatisfaction, to a member of staff or online, as they would about poor food or poor service.

“The bar is a bit louder than expected, but it’s okay, and the dining room is quieter, as we had hoped,” said Ortiz, who worked with the same Chicago-based company, D + K | Interiors, Architecture & Management Group, on Sea Smoke as it had done for the Toro Cantina owned by Ortiz, which opened in March 2020 on Wolf Road in Colonie. Ortiz also owns 677 Prime in Albany and the Prime Burger and Shakehouse fast service in Troy.

Such smooth sailing, sound-wise, was not the case with the 2005 opening of what was then called Angelo’s 677 Prime in Albany, of which Ortiz was the founding conductor. (He bought the upscale steakhouse from original owner Angelo Mazzone a few years ago.)

“The sound at 677 was a problem for the first two years or so,” Ortiz said. “It was too strong.” Among the remedies tried were acoustic panels, but since their original color was deemed unappealing, the decision was made to paint the tiles, largely negating the desired damping effects.

“In my experience, clients usually have (his) on their list of considerations, but it’s at the bottom or near the bottom,” said Neil Pelone, a Troy-based architect with numerous restoration projects and d hospitality to its credit, including the Sixty State Place banquet hall in Albany, the former Dale Miller / Taste in Albany, Creo in Guilderland and Tala American Bistro in Latham, another property founded by Mazzone.

“We warned them ahead of time about Tala, but they had to bring us back to fix it,” Pelone said, referring to himself and Zackery Belanger, a Detroit-based acoustic designer and consultant with whom he worked. worked on Tala and other projects, including 677 Prime. . (After struggling with staffing issues over the summer, Tala closed in August and was later advertised as being for sale.) The solution for Tala was nearly 200 acoustic panels hung vertically to look like a slatted ceiling sculpture.

According to Pelone, “It is almost always more expensive to solve a problem after the fact than during the initial design, but the appearance of a place is rarely given priority.”

“It cost us $ 10,000 and took a year after we opened,” Stephanie Pettit said of the noise reduction process at Daley’s on Yates in Schenectady. Located in a renovated old gut taxi garage, Daley’s on Yates had many of the challenges of restaurants in old industrial spaces, including a hard sound-reflecting ceiling, floor and walls, including a series of garage doors. which open onto a large outdoor dining area. and lounge area.

As a result, “It was just too loud,” said Pettit, a member of the owner team at Old Daley Catering, based in Troy, which owns Daley’s on Yates and Old Daley on Crooked Lake, a restaurant and a event venue in what has long been known as the Crooked Lake House in Averill Park.

The company tried expensive acoustic treatments that promised to reduce the din at Daley’s on Yates, but they had only marginal success, Pettit said. The breakthrough came in an online video.

“There was a Brit with a DIY thing that I found on YouTube,” Pettit said. The secret was army blankets stuffed into frames. It took some design creativity to make it visually appealing, she said. “But the difference was huge.”

“Restaurant acoustics has become a hot topic in our community,” said Ning Xiang, professor at RPI School of Architecture and chair of its graduate program in architectural acoustics.

Recalling a meal with colleagues at a conference in Nashville, TN, Xiang said, “We chose the restaurant because of the menu, and it was beautiful inside, but it was. so loud during the meal that I later discovered that I had lost my voice. . “

For Xiang, the Nashville restaurant was representative of a particularly American vision of dining out.

“I would say that people in the United States are very active and outgoing, and they want to enjoy their restaurant meals often in a large open space,” said Xiang, a native of China who has studied, taught and conducted research in Germany from the 1980s until the end of the 1990s.

“In northern Europe, people tend to want their restaurant meals to be quieter,” Xiang said. “In different parts of the world, different cultural expectations lead to differences in design.”

“I know it’s loud, but that’s what we are: a very busy place with a lot of people moving around, having a good time with great food,” said John LaPosta, Chef-Owner. from Innovo Kitchen in Latham. Opened for six years in a former bowling alley, Innovo has a concrete floor, metal trusses supporting a metal ceiling, and a concrete bar base with a wooden top – reflective surfaces all.

“I thought about trying to change (the sound level) at first, but decided I liked it,” LaPosta said. “I’ve even had people say to me, ‘We think it’s too loud, but we keep coming back because we love the food so much. “”

The vibrant atmosphere desired by fourth-generation restaurateurs Giovannina and Ronald Solevo was evident in the name chosen for the Saratoga Springs restaurant they opened in September 2018: Solevo Kitchen & Social, inspired by 1950s Italian dinner clubs. .

“We wanted a popular, energetic, New York-style scene, and that’s what we got,” said Ronald Solevo. “If someone calls and says they want a quiet table or some quiet time, we say we don’t really have one either.”

There are complex factors that determine whether a room is noisy, in fact or in perception, said Bélanger, Detrot’s acoustician. Surfaces play a role in the volume level and in the way the sound bounces. The longer a room’s reverberation time, the less suitable it is for speech or music, Bélanger said. (Experts can audit reverberation time or use instruments for exact measurements.)

In what is known as the Lombard effect, people involuntarily raise their voices when there is background noise. As more and more people sit in a dining room with hard surfaces and insufficient absorbent material or other design adaptations, everyone begins to speak louder. If you factor in a longer reverb rate, “Pretty soon everyone’s about to scream, and it’s got out of hand,” Bélanger said.

“I always work to get it right,” said Charlie Fitzsimmons, owner of 11 restaurants, primarily in western New York City and also in the Boston area, with one of his four Black & Blue Steak restaurants and Crab in Guilderland.

“It’s always a balance,” Fitzsimmons said. “It can’t be too muted or too quiet. People want to feel like they’re part of something. But you have to decide where the animation gets loud.”

When designing his first restaurants, Fitzsimmons was enamored of the idea of ​​tall, showy ceilings, perhaps coffered or with exposed structural elements, and he placed sound deadening materials lower. But the inevitable spills of food and drink make carpet generally unsuitable for restaurant dining areas, and the backs of restaurant chairs or benches can be fabric or other soft fabrics, but seat coverings should be more sustainable, Fitzimmons said.

“So now I’m putting the sweet things on top, and it’s been part of the design process from the start,” said Fitzsimmons, who is working on the development of a fifth Black & Blue, his second on the Boston subway.

The Sea Smoke creative team used a variety of acoustic treatments, from curtains to the large windows looking out onto an 80-seat patio and across the Hudson River to downtown Troy, to a grand artificial tree in the center of the dining room and, in a nod to the restaurant’s nautical theme, a heavy rope serving as vertical dividers and even woven into the ceiling.

“We never talked about the sound of the room,” Ortiz said. “We knew this should always be part of the conversation.”

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