An unprecedented trend for noisy restaurants is putting customers off, say the publishers of the 2017 Good Food Guide. Our Speak Easy campaign agrees: 90% of our supporters with hearing loss telling us that background noise is the biggest problem they face when eating out.
But are restaurants listening? One major industry figure is. Christopher Moore, who held major roles at Hilton, Harrods and Fenwick before joining The Clink, is successfully tackling the noise problem that much of the industry is so far struggling to address. And the results, says Chris, are “tremendous”.
I travelled down to Sutton to meet Chris at The Clink Restaurant in HMP High Down this summer. The Clink offers a fine dining experience, and also has branches in Brixton, Cardiff and Cheshire. There’s a twist though: it’s the only chain of public restaurants in the UK set inside the walls of working prisons.
It’s also one of Britain's most popular restaurant chains. In July 2017, all four Clink restaurants simultaneously achieved Number 1 ratings on Trip Advisor in their regions. And the Brixton restaurant was competing alongside a staggering 17,909 restaurants in London.
The Clink is a charity. It runs a vocational scheme that gives prisoners hands-on experience in its restaurants, preparing them for a professional working environment. This has achieved an enormous reduction in reoffending within the first year from release, from the national rate of 45% to just 10%.
This is my first visit to a Clink restaurant, and I can see why it’s so rated highly. The setting and mission are unique, the service is fast and friendly, and the excellent quality dishes are reasonably priced. But perhaps most importantly, The Clink doesn’t just do good: its restaurants sound good.
“The difference to noise levels has been tremendous”
Before he tackled the acoustics of the High Down restaurant, Chris says, “the noise level could become unbearable” when the restaurant was fully booked with over 90 guests. The finishes in the restaurant made it hard for people to hear each other speak – and they made complaints.
With the noise clearly affecting the customer experience, the need to address it was a straightforward “customer requirement” for Chris. “It’s nice to have a buzz, but there’s a difference between this and a din” he tells me.
Chris upgraded several elements of the restaurant to improve the acoustics. Echophon installed almost invisible sound absorbing panels, softer seating was fitted, and tables were narrowed by 20cm to help the conversation flow even at the busiest times.
“The difference in noise levels has been tremendous" says Chris. "It’s like a totally different restaurant with a new ambiance. It all seems a lot calmer, and guests can now hear each other speak.”
As I tuck into my melt-in-the-mouth grilled sea bass I can see – and hear – what he means. The physical changes are barely noticeable, and don't detract from the sleek, modern finish of the restaurant. Background music complements the restaurant’s buzzy atmosphere, but the improved acoustics mean we can easily converse over the sound.
A restaurateur with over 30 years’ experience in hospitality, Chris simply responded to his customers' concerns and improved the guest experience in his restaurants. With excessive noise fast becoming a top issue for diners in the UK, I leave hoping that other restaurants will soon take The Clink’s lead and do the same.
Find out more
Christopher Moore will be speaking about The Clink at the Restaurant Show at Olympia London on Tuesday 3 October. It's free to attend, and our Speak Easy campaign will be at stand UJ51 at the Show from 2-4 October. Do drop by and say hi to Johanna and the team!