Acoustics vital for customer experience say brewers July 2021

Breweries are starting to adopt strong internal acoustics within their venues as they realise its importance to the customer experience.

The overall atmosphere of the venue can make or break a brewery experience, and acoustics play an integral role in that. But getting them right is the difficult part, and is often a thankless task.

“When we first leased the space at Bodriggy, we spent a long time refining what the concept should be and how the space would incorporate that,” said Peter Walsh, managing director of Bodriggy Brewing Co. in Melbourne.

Bodriggy’s current Abbotsford space launched in 2019 and is split into two areas, one for its brewery and bar space whilst the other serves as a music and events venue.

Good acoustics is essential for both general customer experience, and for added value offerings such as live music, but it can be tricky to pull off especially in a well-populated urban space.

“There was a large block of apartments about to be built directly next to us so the Yarra Council were quite insistent that we soundproof the main venue area. At that stage we didn’t realise what we were in for though,” Walsh explained.

“Sound quality in venues we have run in the past has become more and more important to us so the idea of making Bodriggy sound the best it possibly could be, was something we were happy with.

“Our belief is that a lot of the time people don’t always consciously think about why they enjoy and ultimately come pack to space.

“The fact customers can hear their friends easily will undoubtedly lead to a more enjoyable experience which will mean they will ultimately be more likely to come back.”

James Legge, director at Triple-1-Three, parent company of Otherside Brewing Co and Freo.Social agreed that while acoustics is key when it comes to entertainment, it’s also important for the overall experience when customers visit breweries.

“That’s a really important balance to get right in a venue and make sure that the music is kind of there in the background but at a good level to provide space for conversation for the people who are dining or drinking so they can have a good experience,” Legge said.

Located in Fremantle, Western Australia, Freo.Social also launched in 2019 and is a multifaceted venue. It sits in the heritage site Artillery Drill Hall with the entertainment hall, beer garden and side bar being the three main areas that make up the venue.

Having multiple areas in a venue can be tricky to navigate when it comes to acoustics and additional challenges are presented when breweries are placed in industrial settings.

“To be honest, some breweries tend to think of it as an afterthought. When they reach their budget on their fitouts, the music doesn’t get prioritised. It’s a real shortfall in their planning in the way they think about the venues because it is an important aspect.

“We have to put appropriate attention and funds into it to make sure that particular piece is covered otherwise, the customer’s not going to have a good experience,” Legge explained.

The design process

Acoustics tend not to be the first thing a brewery will think of when building its site – after all, the beer is the main selling point, and brewers will spend much time and effort on getting the brewing space right.

But thinking about having a good auditory space needs to start at the point of planning and construction.

Bodriggy’s Peter Walsh explained that there were two main aspects in making the Bodriggy venue space sound great. The first one was to replace the entire roof and ceiling with a set of engineered materials in a layer formation.

“This entire process meant the whole ceiling and roof had an enormous weight to it so we needed structural engineers to design weight bearing pillars as well as reinforcing the existing cross beam structure to ensure the roof would not collapse,” Walsh explained.

The second component was to ensure a high quality sound system was installed to ensure live music and ambient sound was presented at the best quality. Bodriggy chose to go with a Funktion One system. They also called in acoustic consultants from Marshall Day Acoustics to help assist with the design development.

However, the process to ensure these components were completed successfully proved to be difficult.

“To be honest it kind of snowballed into a much bigger, and more expensive, project than we first envisioned.

“At one point, we had three different engineers engaged. The raw amount of materials just killed us in the end. The other thing we didn’t really factor in was just the amount of time everything took,” Walsh said.

Similarly with Freo.Social, the construction process was a lengthy one to ensure acoustics were up to standard with over $250,000 being spent on upgrades.

Significant construction was done on the north and south sides of the entertainment hall according to Legge. With the north side of the hall situated closely to housing commission flats, the construction team had to ensure an acoustic wall was built correctly with the necessary treatment and airlocks.

“These days, artists don’t have a lot of opportunity to earn income through live performances and the artists/bands want to make sure they sound as good as possible to increase their profile as performing artists,” Legge said.

Meanwhile, on the south end of the hall, the team faced issues relating to the heritage details of the building.

“The building is 120 years old and some of the challenges were around the heritage aspect of the construction and making sure the heritage fabric wasn’t compromised in the building.

“We wanted to keep the big bay windows that are part of the heritage fabric of the building open but windows are the worst as far as sound goes and it just travelled through.

“So we had to build a second interior window to double glaze it and to provide an opportunity to keep those windows open for the natural light to come in,” Legge explained.

In terms of the hospitality side of the Freo.Social venue, significant work was also done there to enhance the acoustic structure.

The team installed a bespoke house PA system with a dozen speakers placed throughout the external hospitality areas to ensure sound attenuation worked for the music coming through. Each speaker was balanced so that they could be adjusted appropriately for various stages of the day and also to ensure people could still have a conversation, according to Legge.

The end result

The benefit of having an acoustically treated space may not be obvious at first glance, but as Walsh explained, the long-term results are positive.

“I think that most of the time acoustics are appreciated at a subconscious level. Our customers can hear the bands play and at the same time socialise amongst themselves. That ultimately leads to a better experience,” Walsh said.

Legge agreed and explained that while customers haven’t specifically praised the acoustics in Freo.Social, the benefits are still impactful.

“It’s kind of one of those things you actually don’t notice until it’s bad. If it’s all going well, it operates seamlessly in the background, but when it’s wrong, it really does impact your night because you find yourself shouting and not being able to be heard,” Legge said.

While the design process was a long and tiring one, the outcome of providing a space with strong acoustics for customers was worth it for Walsh.

“We notice customers coming back regularly and I have no doubt that the awesome sound in Bodriggy plays a part in that.

“The whole process nearly killed me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Walsh explained.

For Legge, the design process was an important one to ensure customers have a better experience and suggested other breweries to prioritise it.

“Obviously, beer is the priority and it’s got to be great beer and a lot of breweries are making great beer and providing good food and experience.

“But I think to be competitive in a competitive market with breweries, it’s important to focus on the music and also think about live entertainment involving local artists. Consumers really respond to that and it provides an opportunity to increase the dwell time for consumers.”

Ensuring customers stay for that extra pint or food can go a long way for breweries and their business models, according to Legge.

“People are after experiences these days. You can’t travel, people are in lockdowns and sometimes, the local brewery is the only place they can go to socialise. So they’re really after experiences that encapsulates more than just a beer.”

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