Listening to the Data: Exploring Sound Levels at Starbucks vs Popular Coffee Chains

by SoundPrint Team

By Erin Dugan, SoundPrint’s Acoustic Data Scientist

We are back with an in-depth study of sound levels measured at the most popular coffee chains in the SoundPrint database, with over 1400 user-based SoundChecks taken, including 886 different Starbucks locations across the U.S.  This analysis is an assessment of the noise levels in Starbucks and how America’s most famous coffee chain compares to other chains. The biggest takeaway is that Starbucks is one of the loudest coffee chains. And while Starbucks is most popular for its coffee, if you’re looking for the best chain to meet for conversation, choose a different coffee chain, preferably between 1-4p. 

Sound Levels at Different Times of the Day?

If you’re debating between visiting a Starbucks or another coffee shop, the data gives us hints on the best options for times throughout the day, as shown in the below chart. Overall, Starbucks locations are generally 1-4 decibels (dB) louder than other coffee shops. Variances of 3-4 dB are no small matter and can make a difference between a peaceful environment versus one filled with cacophony, loud espresso machines and sub-optimal acoustic design making the ability to have a conversation that much more difficult.  

Looking at specific time-periods in the chart, other coffee shops, whether they are chains or local venues, are generally 1-3 dB quieter than Starbucks, most notably before 9am and between 1pm and 6pm. Starbucks locations are noticeably louder, up to 4 dB, at 8am and 3pm. At other times, the sound levels are fairly comparable. The takeaway is that if you’re a Starbucks lover, avoid staying to enjoy your coffee between 8-9am and 3-4pm and schedule your meetings at other times. And if you want to look for the best coffee to meet for a conversation, choose a different coffee chain other than Starbucks, preferably between 1-4p. 

Although Le Pain Quotidien is about 3 dB louder throughout most of the day, this may be due to the fact that some locations are very small and similar in size to Starbucks, while some other locations operate more as a small casual restaurant. We also include Panera in our analysis as it is a coffee destination for many, except with more restaurant-style seating. Think coffee shops are also louder during dinner time. If we compare these sound levels with those in other chains that also serve coffee, Panera or Dunkin’ are significantly quieter, although likely for different reasons. Dunkin’ locations usually have fewer people staying in the venue to enjoy their coffee, while Panera restaurants, which we discussed in a previous blog post, appear to be designed with acoustics and privacy in mind.


Overall, the coffee chain SoundCheck data shows very interesting trends. Most notably, Starbucks is simply one of the loudest coffee chains, perhaps due to its popularity, but we suspect this is also due to a lack of focus on acoustic design. Patrons and employees often comment that the music is too loud (i.e. simply google “Starbucks” and “noise”). If you’re set on scheduling a coffee meeting with someone at Starbucks, it’s best to avoid the hours between 8-9am and 3-4pm. And if you want to look for the best coffee chain for a conversation, choose a different coffee chain other than Starbucks, preferably between 1-4p. Notably, Peet’s, Dunkin’, and Panera tend to be quieter than Starbucks. So for your next visit to a Starbucks or other coffee shop, these findings can help you pinpoint the best days and times to visit. And, of course, use the SoundPrint app to measure and search for more quiet venues.