A Common Trend
In August 2015, restaurant critic Richard Vines wonders “Why it’s so difficult to turn down the volume at popular restaurants.” “Can dining out make you deaf?” The New York Post asked in October 2015. Across the sea, the Daily Mail in the UK asks, “Can’t hear a word your other half asks when you dine out?”
Well, the Daily Mail found one restaurant that reached 110 decibels, which is the same volume as seeing a live rock band. And it’s not just in the UK. All across the US, restaurants have faced criticism for several years now. Between restaurant design and music, restaurants have gotten very loud. Richard Vines notes the Lombard Effect in restaurants: “Diners speak loudly in loud restaurants and then the people at neighboring tables turn up the volume of their own speech in order to be heard.”
When you can’t hear your dining companions, has a restaurant crossed the threshold from buzzing to noisy?
There is a certain aesthetic to newer restaurants: sleek interior design, converted warehouse or loft space, open kitchen, industrial chic furniture, no carpeting.
Older restaurants will have tablecloths, padded chairs, and sometimes a carpeted floor. With a new minimal aesthetic, contemporary restaurants lack the soft padding which tempers sound. In Richard Vines’s piece for Bloomberg, he talks to Jeremy Luscombe of Resonics, an acoustic consultant for restaurants.
Luscombe says, “Industrial design with concrete finishes and hard surfaces mean noise is propelled around the room.” The solution for this would be to temper sound with acoustic panels on walls and ceilings.
In The New York Times, readers wrote in about acoustics in restaurants. One reader, Todd R. of Vermont, wrote, “As a former recording studio owner and engineer, this has been a pet peeve of mine for years. Acoustics is given very low priority in restaurant design and construction, if it’s considered at all, and many architectural schools don’t teach it…Acoustic specialists are typically brought in for that part, and independently owned restaurants don’t see the value in it.”
Add design to the noise emanating from an open kitchen, and the blast of music to create a lively atmosphere, and restaurants become very noisy places.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Hearing specialists believe that exposure to sounds 85 decibels or above for an hour or longer has the potential to permanently damage hearing. Writer Steve Cuozzo of The New York Post “recorded consistent 90-decibel readings during peak hours at three of the city’s hottest new restaurants” in New York. Essentially, sitting in a restaurant for an hour exposes diners to the same level of dangerous noise as listening to the engine of a construction vehicle.
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs due to exposure to dangerous levels of noise over extended periods of time. We think of things like loud rock concerts, sports events, operating heavy machinery, working in construction – but dining out does not usually come to mind. In this era of restaurant design and ambiance, we’ll have to take it into account.
Dining becomes a difficult experience – especially for people who are hard of hearing. One New York Times reader says, “My dad is hearing impaired (because of his military service) and it is painful to see him in a restaurant where he can’t hear. There are definitely many restaurants that have lost our business because of the sound level. And there are restaurants that have gained our business because they modulate the acoustics and make it comfortable for everyone.”
So the next time you are out to dinner, and you cannot hear the conversation you’re a part of – ask the restaurant to turn down the music and rethink their acoustics!