The Ordinary quiets down with new array of acoustic tiles

( Leroy Burnell/ 4/12/2013 )

There are two ways to gauge the noise level of a restaurant dining room. One way involves a decibel meter. The other way relies on the carefully calibrated ear of the restaurant’s owner and chef. And by that measure, it seems The Ordinary this month licked its longstanding noise problems.

A few days after the upper King Street restaurant affixed $12,000 worth of acoustical panels to its ceiling, Mike Lata was talking to his sous chef in an area of the raw bar that’s visually shielded from the dining room. The restaurant had opened 15 minutes earlier, and based on the hum of the crowd, Lata assumed a few tables were taken. He emerged from the kitchen to discover the dining room was “100 percent full.”

“I was blown away,” Lata says. “It was almost creepy.”

While Lata says he’s determined not to do away with the energetic buzz that propels the restaurant, decibel readings back up his claim that the noise level is significantly reduced. According to Lata’s meter, the room now scores 75 decibels, which is roughly equivalent to the whirr of a dishwasher. (On Tuesday night, the decibel meter app on my phone registered 78 at The Ordinary’s bar.)

“Unless people like dining in a recording studio, it’s definitely taken care of,” Lata says.

In a nonscientific survey of restaurant noise conducted last year by The Post and Courier, The Ordinary ranked as downtown’s loudest dining room. At 90 decibels on the exponential scale, The Ordinary was as loud as a truck without a muffler. Restaurants clocking in at 75 decibels included SNOB and Fulton Five.

Immediately after opening in December 2012, The Ordinary started fielding noise complaints.

“We knew there were going to be issues from the get go,” Lata says. “The reality of a budget is you cut everything you can that doesn’t prevent you from opening.”

The Ordinary presented a special set of problems for acoustical engineering, since the simplest and cheapest solutions would have interfered with the look of the room. “We were trying to preserve the aesthetic of the ceiling, because that cornice is pretty beautiful and dramatic and original,” Lata says.

Complaints about noise ultimately tapered off. “People who don’t like loud restaurants stopped coming,” Lata explains. Still, when a recommended team of acoustical problem-solvers came to town to consult with The Grocery and Indaco, The Ordinary signed up for help too.

“It’s not cheap to fix, but we bit the bullet,” Lata says.

Now that the overhead panels are in place, The Ordinary’s moved on to fine-tuning its soundscape. “We have to tweak the music,” Lata says. “The treble seems to be out of whack.” And front-of-house staffers are learning to not inadvertently scream at guests.

“The servers have to retrain themselves,” Lata says.

As do local diners, who may have gotten in the habit of skirting The Ordinary on behalf of their eardrums. “The people out there can come in,” Lata says.