Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
Restaurant noise is challenging, coming from all directions. There’s the chatter of dining patrons, the backdrop of plates and glasses clanging, and more than likely a stream of loud music booming overhead as people scoot in and out of chairs scraping against floors. Even the chef may be audible: The open-kitchen styles that are so trendy these days can mean kitchen clamor spills into dining areas.
Bustling restaurants full of energy are meant to be lively, but in the end, it can be enraging.
It’s no wonder that restaurant noise has been getting a closer look lately. As The Atlantic explained, “Fashionable minimalism replaced plush opulence. That’s a recipe for commotion.”
If you have hearing loss or wear hearing aids, this means you can’t dine unprepared and expect to have seamless conversations with those around you. So, here are a few tips to help you navigate the noise:
Hearing tips for noisy restaurants
1. Pick the restaurant.
If you’re planning the outing, pick a quiet restaurant rather than the noisy bar and grille on the corner.
If you can, select a restaurant with carpeting, heavy drapes, low ceilings, and a kitchen that’s not viewable to diners. All of these accoutrements cut down on the echo effect that disrupts clear hearing.
Also check the local restaurant reviews. Many cities are now implementing noise ratings in their reviews along with lighting. These ratings are great for those concerned with background noise and poor lighting.
2. Sit facing the primary speaker.
This might take a little juggling for chairs but it’s important that you face the primary speaker head on. Even for people with no hearing loss, hearing in noisy environments is partly based on reading visual cues from lip movements—so the clearer you can see the main speaker’s face, the better.
Of course, avoid a game of musical chairs as your group is seated, but get the best view you can. Bright lighting helps, too.
3. Schedule your outing after the lunch rush or before the dinner rush.
Fewer people, less noise—it’s that simple.
4. Don’t nod in agreement if you didn’t hear what your companion said.
You may have just agreed to “a million-dollar contract” when you “heard” a “fill-in contact.” Don’t be afraid ask for clarification – your companions will appreciate that more than you being misinformed or confused. Pretending to hear can become a bad habit.
5. Wear your hearing aids.
Hopefully this goes without saying, but your hearing aids are invaluable in restaurants. While they may still pick up some unnecessary background noise, your aids will help amplify the speakers closest to you, such as your waiter and your dining companions. Today’s digital hearing aids eliminate feedback with sophisticated technology and many are able to interface with Bluetooth compatible phones.
6. Consider FM technology.
For people with more severe to profound hearing loss, hearing aids may not always be enough in a large group meeting where there are multiple speakers that need to be heard, especially in noisy restaurants.
Personal FM systems, often referred to as assistive listening devices, can help. They consist of a small, FM transmitter microphone that is used by the speaker or placed in the center of the restaurant table, and a receiver that’s worn by you. The receiver will transmit the sound directly to your hearing aids either by direct audio input or by a looped cord around your neck.
Your hearing aid must be equipped to pick up the FM signal. Discuss this further with your hearing care professional to determine if your hearing aids are equipped. If you do not have hearing aids yet, and frequently participate in meetings, mention this is something you may want to utilize.
7. Check your hearing aids before your outing.
Most hearing aids with disposable batteries will alert you when your battery is close to being drained, so be sure to carry a spare or two with you at all times. This will ensure you are never disconnected from the communication grid due to a power outage.
8. Finally, don’t stress.
Restaurants are notoriously noisy places. No one will be surprised if you struggle to hear. However, it’s still understandable to feel frustrated. Staying calm will ensure your mind is staying on task and taking all the necessary steps to improve your ability to hear. Breathe. Smile. Be your own advocate. Be honest. Be prepared. And most importantly, enjoy the food.
If restaurants aren’t your only source of background noise frustration, we recommend reading Hearing aids and background noise: Overcoming the battle.
Finally, if you struggle with hearing in restaurants and in other settings, but have never had your hearing tested, it may be time to see a hearing care professional. Visit our directory of consumer-reviewed hearing clinics to find a provider near you.