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Side serve of noise leaves bad taste in diner mouths: study

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Forget the flash fit-out and polished concrete floor – noisy cafes and restaurants actively turn off diners and their enjoyment of meals, according to an Adelaide acoustic study.

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The Flinders University laboratory study replicated common noise levels in restaurants, with acoustics experts saying it “proves that high noise levels can play a major part in a dining experience – along with the quality of the food and restaurant service”.

The study considered factors such as age, gender and noise sensitivity to background noise, with noise-sensitive people, as well as older people and females, reporting lower enjoyment of food amidst elevated background noise.

The study found that while playing relaxing music at 30 decibels increased the liking of food by 60 per cent, playing it at 40dBA  dropped the figure to 38 per cent, while “restaurant noise and road traffic noise decreased the liking of food at all noise levels”.

Earlier this year, an InDaily article by former senior arts administrator Rainer Jozeps bemoaning Adelaide’s plague of shouty cafes and restaurants, prompted a torrent of letters in support.

 “Our study not only shows that relaxing music at low noise levels increases food enjoyment but indicates that even ‘normal’ background noise levels in restaurants can be unpleasant to diners,” said study lead author and PhD candidate Mahmoud Alamir, from Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering.

 “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,” he said.

Flinders University acoustic engineer and study co-author Dr Kristy Hansen said the results highlighted the importance of noise management strategies in restaurants to provide better dining experiences.

 “This could include more practical acoustic design of dining areas to suit different groups of people,” she said.

“Quiet dining areas should be considered for older and noise-sensitive people.”

In its findings, the paper said that while previous studies had shown that background noise can affect the liking of food, little was known about the liking of food in the presence of different background noise types and levels.

Researchers investigated food liking in a room with no noise, and then played three background noise types – relaxing music, road traffic noise and restaurant noise – over three noise levels of 30, 40 and 50 dBA.

Fifteen participants rated their liking of food using an 11-point Likert scale, with results indicating that the type and volume of background noise affected the liking of food.

Further, researchers investigated food liking according to gender, noise sensitivity and age, against background noise, with 15 participants rating their liking of food via questionnaires.

“The results indicated that age, noise sensitivity and gender influence relative food liking,” the study said.

Females had lower liking ratings of food than males, with noise sensitivity affecting the outcome, and older participants also gave lower relative food liking ratings.

“A better understanding of acoustic and non-acoustic factor effects on food perception can be an important area of interest in noise management of dining areas,” the study said.

“These results also provide an opportunity for future practical and educational applications. These include a better service that could be presented from food providers and more practical acoustic design of dining areas to suit different groups of people.”

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