Poor acoustics can cost stars

If noise mars the dining experience, the restaurant’s overall rating may suffer, according to food writer Morten Vilsbæk, a member of the Danish food critics’ association Danske Madanmeldere.

Busy bistros and basement restaurants in particular should pay close attention to the acoustics.


Packed restaurants have not been a problem during the corona pandemic. However, once life returns to normal, hopefully the restaurants will be able to fill their tables again. And when it happens, the acoustics may prove a challenge – especially if acoustic control has not been incorporated in the design.

The sound of clanging plates, background din and being unable to avoid hearing what is being said at neighbouring tables. These are all factors that can ultimately cost a star when food critics have to describe their impressions from a restaurant visit in a newspaper column.

Even though food, wine and service have the highest priority on a food critic’s checklist, the acoustics and sound levels are an increasingly important factor for the overall dining experience, says Morten Vilsbæk. He is a food writer for the Danish online news media Avisen Danmark, which is part of the media group Jysk Fynske Medier. At the same time, he’s a member of the Danish food critics’ association Danske Madanmeldere.

“Acoustics and atmosphere are part and parcel of eating out. But it is all about finding the right balance. If the room is not designed to prevent noise from other guests disturbing a discussion around a table, then it’s problem. On the other hand, it mustn’t be so quiet that you can hear a pin drop. This can suck the life out of a restaurant visit. Both my colleagues and I primarily focus on the raw ingredients and food preparation, but if there are poor acoustics, it is mentioned in the review,” says Morten Vilsbæk.

Profits squeeze acoustics

Generally speaking, Morten Vilsbæk and his colleagues mention problems with acoustics in connection with describing the restaurant interior. However, he can certainly envisage it becoming a fixed item on a food critic’s checklist, as is already the case in several American media. In particular because he finds that noise levels are increasing at many Danish restaurants and eateries.

“Hand in hand with the emergence of the bistro wave, restaurants have become livelier venues. Somewhere like Noma is, in terms of the acoustics, a nice place to be because there is plenty of space between the tables. On the other hand, a bistro needs to generate more revenue. Here, the focus is on value for money, with three dishes for DKK 350 for example, so it’s necessary to push the tables closer together and save on freshly laundered tablecloths. This creates a different restaurant layout and thus higher sound levels,” says Morten Vilsbæk.

However, he says that the lively environment can certainly be part of the charm of visiting this type of restaurant, especially for a younger clientele, while older guests largely prefer peace and quiet during their meals.

Echoey basement restaurants

According to Morten Vilsbæk, basement restaurants in particular should pay close attention to sound levels. Here, the sounds bounce around the hard walls, floors and ceilings, unless materials are specifically chosen which dampen the acoustics.

“In several basement restaurants, you eat under a vaulted stone ceiling and on a tiled floor. This means that the acoustics are difficult. If the food and the service are good, food critics usually overlook this, but establishments of this kind could certainly do more to improve their acoustics.”