Listening to the Data: Quietest and Loudest Restaurant Chains
Listening to the Data: The Quietest and Loudest Restaurant Chains and the Best Times to Visit Them
By Erin Dugan, SoundPrint’s Acoustic Data Scientist
Continuing our deep dive into SoundPrint’s crowdsourced sound level data, our next analysis looks at popular casual chain restaurants – the quietest and loudest venues and the ideal times of day to visit them.
There are times when the familiarity of a chain restaurant is appreciated, especially when looking for a quieter venue conducive to conversation or a more peaceful ambiance. A quieter spot is a valuable find, so we examine the sound level submissions from the most popular casual restaurant chains across the U.S. to discover which ones can be relied upon for a quieter environment, and which times of the day are best to frequent them.
This dataset for the analysis is based on 3,300+ user-based submissions (“SoundChecks”) across 18 casual restaurant chains with each chain needing a minimum of 100 SoundChecks. Each chain had a SoundCheck from at least 30 unique U.S. locations. Note that two fast-casual restaurants, Panera and Chipotle, are grouped with other more typical restaurant chain restaurants that have dining and waiter-based service. We report the median, rather than the average sound level to ensure outliers, such as unusually loud or quiet submissions, do not skew the results.
Which restaurant chains are the quietest and loudest?
See footnote for sound level (decibel) level guidelines.*
From our analysis of 18 popular restaurant chains, the results show that Panera and IHOP chains are quieter across the board. They both register below 70 dbA and are the only two restaurants that are consistently Quiet. On the opposite sound spectrum, True Food Kitchen and Yard House are the loudest restaurant chains. As shown in the graph below, the median sound level in Yard House restaurants is 81 dBA. This is 14 decibels (dB) louder than Panera, which is, to our ears, nearly three times louder. This is an astronomical difference in sound level. Certainly not conducive for conversation. More importantly, sound levels over 80 dBA potentially endanger the hearing health of patrons and restaurant staff.
What are the best times of day to visit a casual chain restaurant?
While it’s beneficial to know which restaurant chains are the quietest overall, it’s even more beneficial to know the best times of day to visit them. In the first chart below we compare sound levels at different time periods throughout the day – Early Morning (6-9am), Mid-Morning (9-11am), Lunch (11am-2pm), Afternoon (2-5pm), Dinner (5-9pm), and Late Night (after 9pm). We then split the chain restaurants into three groups based on either their meal-times or according to their sound levels: (1) Breakfast Restaurant Chains, (2) Quiet Casual Restaurant Chain, and (3) Loud Casual Restaurant Chains. Note that Quiet and Loud Casual Restaurant Chains focus on meals that include lunch and/or dinner, not just breakfast.
Among the Breakfast Restaurant Chains, sound levels at IHOP were noticeably quieter (at least 5 dB) than the other three chains during the day, especially during breakfast time. Thus, we wholeheartedly recommend IHOP as a great breakfast location to meet friends. And we suggest avoiding Le Pain Quotidien, unless you want a bit more buzzing sound environment and prefer their coffee and croissants.
Looking at the Quietest Casual Restaurant chains in the chart below, the sound levels are consistently louder during dinnertime. This is not surprising since it tends to be a popular time at any restaurant. While Panera has similar sound levels as a few of the other restaurant chains during lunchtime, it remains the quietest overall amongst the group, especially during post-lunch hours. While we can recommend many of these venues – shout out to Applebees and Olive Garden – as they are all generally quieter than most chain restaurants and fall within the Quiet-Moderate sound level range (75 dBA and below), Panera is the clear winner and our preferred location for an afternoon (or evening) meeting or meal.
Among the seven Loud Casual Restaurant chains, we can see in the chart below that sound levels are consistently over 75 dBA throughout most of the day. While we would not recommend many of these restaurant chains for a quiet meal, it’s apparent which chains are exceptionally loud at lunch and dinner time, especially when levels exceed 80 dBA as it would be incredibly difficult to hold a conversation. Amongst this group of restaurants, we recommend avoiding Yard House, True Food Kitchen and Texas Roadhouse, unless you prefer a very loud atmosphere and risking your hearing health.
What about local restaurants?
Although we cover chain restaurants for this analysis, we cannot forget about local, independent restaurants. Our knowledge on the sound levels in chain restaurants can also help us predict the sound levels to expect in other restaurants. Because the individual locations of most chain restaurants are designed similarly with their own unique decor style and layout, it is easier knowing what sound environment to expect. Especially since some chains appear to be designed with the acoustics in mind (we commend you, Panera!). So if the SoundPrint app does not have any user submissions for a local restaurant yet, the interior layout and decor can also clue you in on the sound levels you can expect in a local venue. If they are set up like a Panera, IHOP, or Applebee’s – with more absorptive surfaces, lower ceilings, and private seating areas – it’s likely you have found a quieter place.
From the large number of crowdsourced sound levels for U.S. restaurants arise several interesting insights about the popular restaurant chains. For chains like Buffalo Wild Wings or Yard House, diners can expect to encounter uncomfortably loud environments and their employees are likely to have their hearing health jeopardized. At the other end of the spectrum, Applebees and Olive Garden are preferred for a quieter lunch or dinner. Also consider IHOP or Panera if you are looking for a more peaceful ambiance for breakfast. Overall, we commend Panera for designing their restaurants to be quieter and more conducive for conversation throughout the day. Stay tuned for deeper dives on how Panera’s interior design contributes to acoustic success as well as the most popular coffee chain in the SoundPrint database, Starbucks, a hotspot for business meetings and online dates.
*SoundPrint’s sound level guidelines can be viewed at this link here. A measurement of 70 dBA or below is Quiet, which means safe for hearing and great for conversation. A measurement of 70-75 dBA equates to being safe for hearing and conducive to conversation. A measurement of 75-80 dBA is likely safe for hearing, but difficult for conversation. And a measurement of 80 dBA or above is not safe for hearing, and prolonged exposure can cause hearing loss.