This past spring I was blessed to be married to an amazing woman who thankfully doesn’t mind when I walk into a business and point out the acoustical flaws and potential improvements that could be made “if they had only hired an acoustical consultant!”
During our engagement, the task of planning for the wedding began, and of course, we visited venues for potential places to hold the reception. In the months leading up to the big day, we attended several weddings and receptions and were on the prowl for good ideas as our wedding neared. One of the things that surprised me was the newfound awareness that I had as a wedding guest in the months leading up to our own wedding. Important details like color selection, presentation, flowers, appetizers, music, etc. suddenly became more important to us. Naturally, I couldn’t help but notice the acoustics of the venues and how that affected the guest’s behavior during the reception. Here are several observations:
1. Beautiful rooms with acoustically hard surfaces make for a very difficult cocktail hour. Guests become uncomfortable very quickly if they cannot hear each other or if they feel they cannot participate in small group conversations. During the cocktail hour, when the background noise was too loud and conversation difficult, the crowd tended to gather up by the entrance to the dining room or just move straight for their tables. However, when the background noise levels were managed, the guests congregated in small groups and conversation flowed – creating a much more relaxed, enjoyable environment.
2. Dining Rooms draped with drywall surfaces and large tables arranged in a highly dense pattern makes dinner about as awkward as a 7th grade school dance. I was amazed at the difference in our conversations during dinner based on this type of room. Couples who didn’t know each other just stuck to themselves rather than trying to talk loud enough for the entire table to hear. Conversely, when the environment was acoustically acceptable, we were able to have a discussion with the whole table, allowing for a much more enjoyable dinner.
3. Finally the Band or the DJ… Once dinner ended and the party began, we noticed two separate groups. Fueled by confidence (thanks to the open bar), the first group hit the dance floor and the party began. Background noise doesn’t matter to these folks; honestly, the louder the better. But the other group (the ones that wanted to spend time talking with their new friends or catch up with family members) remained at their tables. Being more of a chatterbox and less of a dancer myself, I worked the room to catch up with aunts, uncles, cousins, and old friends. At many receptions, I found that the latter group was very uncomfortable because they couldn’t carry on their conversations, and oftentimes they were the first to leave early, feeling stressed and fatigued from trying to socially engage in an environment where noise control was non-existent.
So, what kind of venue did we pick? We actually split the difference between all the options and went with an older facility that had multiple rooms and a much more intimate feel than the new, modern, everything in one large room, banquet halls. Of course, I made sure ahead of time to approve of how the rooms functioned acoustically!
So, the next question then would be, “Does the acoustical performance of your banquet facility really matter?” I would argue that it does, and that it has a much bigger impact than most of us realize. After speaking to several recently married couples and getting their thoughts and concerns, I heard a lot of comments that related directly to the acoustical performance of the room, even if they didn’t realize it. Common comments included: “My guests couldn’t hear the toasts, prayers, and welcome when everyone was seated at their tables”, “The Band said they had their systems set quieter than they usually play, but we still received several complaints that it was too loud.”, and “People left early at our wedding; we had a DJ and the bar was open, but no one really wanted to stick around after dinner.”
Careful acoustical design for these spaces can help to reduce the oft forgotten negative effects that occur in banquet style wedding reception halls. By working with an acoustical consultant, your designer has the opportunity to design and include acoustical treatment native to the room that also serves its aesthetic features, rather than rigging up a fix after the fact with surface treatments that take away from the original design intentions. And hopefully, at the end of the night there will still be lots of guests hanging around, engaging in good conversation, and enjoying the wedding reception for what it’s really all about.