Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Chrome fixtures, hardwood floors, industrial lighting, high ceilings, mood music — some restaurant interiors are as artistic as the plates of food they serve their customers. Yet the trend away from softscape materials such as carpeting, drapery and fabric-tufted cushions has some unintended consequences. Restaurants have become increasingly noisy, making it much more difficult for their patrons to carry on a conversation. It’s known as the restaurant dilemma — and according to a 2018 survey by user-generated restaurant reviewer, Zagat, it’s now the number one complaint of diners.
How loud is the din in some of your favorite eateries? According to a survey conducted in April 2018 by Oticon, one of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers, some of the noise levels are equivalent to those of an alarm clock or heavy traffic.
The study measured noise levels at five top-rated restaurants in ten different markets every ten minutes during peak dining hours on Saturday evening (7:00-8:00 p.m.). Chicago’s Siena Tavern captured the highest noise level of 138.2 decibels (dB). Nashville’s The Distillery was second at 133.4 dB, while the noise in Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill measured 124.8. All three are levels higher than those you would experience standing near an ambulance siren (120 dB).
While average noise levels of the five markets measured 82.19 dB (Nashville), 81.92 dB (Portland), 80.44 dB (Washington D.C.), 76.51 dB (Seattle), and 75.60 dB (Austin), the highest noise levels in each of the 50 restaurants measured more than the 85 dB hearing healthcare professionals deem as safe exposure.
Why this is alarming
The ringing in your ears you experience after a night in a noisy restaurant or other similar gathering place as a patron may not be permanent, but it is an indication your ears were exposed to excessive noise levels.
If you happen to work in the service industry and are exposed regularly, take steps now to protect your hearing. Prolonged exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 dB can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), one of the most common — and preventable — forms of hearing loss among the 48 million Americans who report having trouble hearing. The loss can occur over a long period of time for those who work in a noisy environment or participate in a hobby such as hunting or wood working. Loud explosions or other one-time noise events, such as a balloon popping too close to your ear, can also cause NIHL.
Tips for having a pleasant dining experience
Great food and good conversation go hand in hand, so it can be annoying to dine in a place where it’s difficult to enjoy the company. Here are a few tips to help you combat the restaurant dilemma, regardless of your ability to hear:
- Choose a quiet restaurant to begin with — perhaps one with lower ceilings, carpet and window treatments. Check online review sites, such as Zagat or Yelp. Look for patron-posted comments regarding the noise level.
- Eat early or late. If you can’t choose the restaurant based on noise levels, opt for a dinner reservation that helps you avoid crowds during the peak dinner rush. The fewer the patrons in the room, the less noisy it will be.
- Ask for a table in the quietest part of the restaurant, away from the kitchen, open bar or entertainment. Corner tables near walls or partitions may help deflect background noise so you can concentrate on what the people at your table are discussing. Reservation tools such as Open Table allow you to place these types of special requests when booking a reservation online.
- Ask for a table near good lighting. When you can easily see your dinner companion, you can make use of lipreading and visual cues to help you decipher the message.
- If you’ve been prescribed hearing aids, wear them. Today’s most sophisticated hearing aid devices, such as the Oticon Opn, allow you to better handle noisy situations with multiple speakers with easy-to-use programming options and advanced sound processing.
If you haven’t had your hearing evaluated lately, schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional. Find one in your community by searching Healthy Hearing’s directory. With the variety of hearing devices available today, it’s easier than ever to hear your best in all of your favorite listening environments — including your favorite restaurant.