From the NY Times:
The worst offender as far as terrible sound-space design, seems to be franchised casual-dining
restaurants and coffee shops. Always too loud and boomy for my liking. I was in a bar/restaurant
yesterday in Danbury CT, a place built into the end of a strip mall but with surprising character.
There were 8 of us at the table, and a bunch of somewhat raucus guys at the bar. Yet is was easy to
hear all conversation at the table. I got to wondering why. Answers: the bartender didn't have music
blaring too loud for conversation, it was just some sonic background noise; and, most importantly,
the place's ceiling went all the way up, no tiles or other height-reducer. They built their
decorating sceme vertical, and so took advantage of keeping it open up to the metal roof beams. This
created a room for the sound to dissapate even though the space was narrow and rectangular. Compare
this to a typical Starbucks, some of which are like being in echo chambers with a massive "boom
bump" in the frequencies of loud male voices.
-- Tom Fine