Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What's an acceptable level of noise? Here's sound advice

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There are absolute standards in regard to how loud your music should be played when complying with Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s, or OSHA guidelines.

According to OSHA, you can’t expose your employees to a whole shift of music that is 90 decibels or more, a volume that is high for a restaurant, but not uncommon in bars and nightclubs. Even at sound levels that OSHA says are safe, it is likely you’ll get lots of guest complaints.

According to Stephani Robson, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at Cornell University School of Hotel Management, a study found that the average noise level in restaurants measured about 70 decibels even though the volume needed for comfortable conversation is around 60 decibels. Flip through any restaurant review, and you may see guest complaints about not being able to hear their dining companions over the noise.

Part of the problem is the way restaurants are designed today. For example, there are lots of hard surfaces, no carpets, and tables packed close together to maximize capacity, all of which can make a space seem very loud. But music that is playing at too high a volume also is a big contributor to uncomfortable noise levels.

So how loud should the music be? In general, not more than about 60 decibels for restaurants where you want guests to converse over a meal. To ensure you are at the correct level, you can test your music levels with an inexpensive sound meter that can be bought online for about $30. There are also free decibel meter applications found in the App Stores on your smart phone.

Turn the music up for active bar scenes, but keep it under 75 decibels unless you want your guests and staff to be hoarse at the end of the night.

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