There are numerous manufacturers who make decorative wall and ceiling panels that are designed to absorb sound, while not detracting from the look of the room. Such panels come in different colors, shapes and sizes, and are easily installed without requiring construction permits or specialized rigging contractors. Many are made of acoustical foam or from various fabrics wrapped over absorbent foam.
It’s even possible to build these yourself, if you have access to a table or chop saw, and an inclination to save a few dollars. Simply purchase some 1 inch x 4 inch pine stock — or even 1 inch x 6 inch or 1 inch x 8 inch if you want better results — and construct a whole lot of 2 foot square boxes with a 3/8-inch plywood rear panel. Fill them with the best acoustic insulation you can find (hint: it’s usually yellow instead of red if it’s designed for acoustical usage instead of thermal). Cover the front surface with burlap of an appropriate color, and then hang them from the ceiling using small threaded eyebolts and light-weight chain.A responsible “handyman” can manage this, as the weight of each absorber is going to be quite minimal. Just make sure that they are well secured and able to survive an earthquake, so that they don’t come crashing down on the heads of your patrons. For the record, this writer does not promote the concept of using anyone who is not a professional rigger to install loudspeakers or any other fixtures that weigh more than 20 lbs.
Install as many of these absorbers as you can afford to. Place them close together. Make that hard ceiling into an acoustically absorbent field.
Next, add some commercial sound absorbers to the walls. Keep adding absorbent materials until the room sounds the way you want it to. You don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to a sound consultant who will tell you exactly the same thing you’re reading here.
Now, along with your excellent food and service, your patrons can conduct business conversations, exchange romantic sentiments or sell insurance, without having to strain to speak and be heard.
Ken DeLoria is senior technical editor for Live Sound International and has had a diverse career in pro audio over more than 30 years, including being the founder and owner of Apogee Sound.