The wrong answer to the restaurant noise problem

Photo credit: Jeremy Keith licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the United Kingdom discusses expensive new headphones which can help someone understand conversations in a noisy restaurant.

This is the wrong answer to the restaurant noise problem.

Why should someone have to spend £400–about $530 at current exchange rates–just to be able to understand a conversation in a restaurant in London?

The right answer is making restaurants quieter, by reducing background music levels and adding sound-absorbing materials, so everyone can have a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard.

Noisy restaurants are a major disability rights issue for those with hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. And it is an important issue for older Americans, many of whom have significant (25-40 decibel) hearing loss.

I will be speaking about the problem of restaurant noise at the December 2017 meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in New Orleans.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Comments (2)

  1. siobhan wall

    And the absence of background music isn’t always the answer, either. Soft furnishings and absorbent materials make a place less ‘noisy’ and more welcoming. People’s conversations are more audible to their friends and less disruptive to others – hopefully.

    1. GMB (Post author)

      It’s true that the absence of background music, standing alone, may not make things quiet enough, but unlike remodeling a restaurant, turning off the music is free. It’s the first step. Actually, the first step should be thinking about sound in the beginning stages of the restaurant design brief. But no one is doing that now. So having restaurants turn off the music is a good, quick way to get some relief, however small. Plants, textiles in particular, and a move away from this ubiquitous industrial design would make eating out so much more pleasant.


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