Neighbours and noise: how to run your outdoor area without complaints and problems.
Good neighbourly relations are good for business but conflicts between neighbours about noise are unfortunately quite common. As a restaurateur with an outdoor area, you can quite easily become the target of complaints and legal action. In view of this, it is essential that you plan, realise, and run your outdoor area in compliance with locally applicable noise reduction regulations. Avoid the most common mistakes and safeguard your revenue in the busy open-air season.
The legal situation: non-specific guidelines
When sounds from neighbours are at their quietest levels in the evening and at night, noise pollution from businesses in the catering segment can be particularly annoying. Based on current knowledge, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently lowered the threshold value for outdoor noise levels in residential areas from 45 dB(A) to 40 dB(A). This is, however, only a guideline value. The following example makes it clearer for restaurant operators: the value of 45 dB(A) should not be exceeded when a maximum of 60 guests in an outdoor area speak in a normal tone of voice.
Noise prevention begins with proactive planning
Address the issues of noise disturbance in the initial planning of your gastronomic concept even if you don’t serve guests in an outdoor area. This avoids future problems and unscheduled investments in subsequent noise reduction measures. Even if an outdoor area, a children’s play area, or a ‘smokers’ corner’ is not on your agenda for some time, avoiding excessive levels of noise must always be part of your plans.
Act proactively: build lasting measures
Construct or implement noise barriers before you receive any complaints about a loud outdoor area.
Noise barriers: construct barriers from wood or create barriers filled with various plants, which also have a cooling effect.
Plants: place plants with thick foliage near neighbouring properties. Dense shrubs absorb noise and look cheerful. If you need a quick solution, put large plants or shrubs in tubs.
Roofing: construct a roof over your outdoor area to keep noise contained. Particularly, consider covering areas where your staff handle glasses, tableware, and cutlery. A pergola covered with growing plants is not only an attractive feature and a good source of shade, it also contains noise.
Get to know your neighbours
The best way to establish good relations with neighbours is to speak openly with them. Like in private life, personal contact is what counts. Quite often, you can eliminate the reasons for noise complaints without investing too much money.
Invite your nearest neighbours to an informal meeting to discuss the noise situation. This gives you an opportunity to address any misgivings your neighbours may have and a chance to show them around. After all, every neighbour is also a potential regular visitor.
Propose suggestions for improvements. Listen to what they say and make constructive suggestions based on your own experience and within the limitations of your infrastructure. This shows that you appreciate the problems and fears of your neighbours and are prepared to respond to them.
Provide concrete changes to concrete complaints and implement these changes. Such changes could be the relocation of your ‘smokers’ corner’ or the erection of an appropriate noise barrier. This will prove that you take their complaints seriously. Conflicts can very soon escalate if neighbours call the local authorities to handle their complaints.
Calculate costs for noise reduction measures. In extreme cases, for example, you may have to pay for the installation of acoustically insulated windows at your neighbours’ properties to settle a dispute. In the long run, and if your livelihood depends on your outdoor area, measures like this will pay off. It is also advisable to install acoustic insulation around refrigerators and cooling systems in your outdoor area. You could request financial support in the form of a low-interest loan or an annual discount from your beverage supplier.
Sensitise your staff to the issue
Although it’s clear that your guests can be noisy outdoors, your team members also depend on vocal communication and further noise is generated by cooling compressors and the handling of tableware, cutlery, and glasses.
Make your staff aware of the issues involved. If the outdoor area is busy, the audible volume of communication between team members involuntarily rises. In view of this, it is not only essential to mention noise issues at team meetings but also to respond immediately when the volume outdoors gets too loud.
Define your standpoint
Complaints from local residents are almost unavoidable. Prepare logical and persuasive arguments to address them. Explain that you would like to give guests the option to dine outdoors but are putting measures in place to reduce noise. At the same time, identify and distance yourself from other sources of noise in your neighbourhood. Quite often, noise emissions from neighbouring companies are falsely localised and could be attributed to you. If conflicts arise, unbiased appraisals of the situation can help clarify the matter. Take advantage of support from your trade association. After all, as decisions on noise issues in outdoor areas are often quoted as a basis for further verdicts, they may turn out to be important for the entire restaurant sector.