by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
Restaurant noise is a major problem for diners, now being the leading complaint in the latest Zagat restaurant survey. And this article from Sarasota Magazine says it’s a problem there, too.
The writer makes the common error citing the 85 decibel occupational noise exposure limit as the sound level at which auditory damage begins, noting restaurant noise levels of 92 decibels at one popular restaurant. Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise level to prevent hearing loss.
The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of exposure at 85 A-weighted decibels* to prevent hearing loss. And a typical restaurant meal lasts 90-120 minutes, depending on the speed of the service, the dining choices, and whether one lingers beforehand over drinks or afterwards for coffee and dessert. So all diners at the restaurant were at risk of hearing loss.
Is this a real problem? Yes! In 2017 the CDC reported that 24% of American adults had noise-induced hearing loss, most without significant occupational noise exposure.
Choosing a quieter restaurant, as an economist friend suggested, isn’t a realistic option. In most cities, there are few if any quiet restaurants, and a less noisy one is the only option if one wants to eat a restaurant meal.
It’s clear that restaurant noise is an example of market failure, and that regulator action is needed to protect diners’ auditory health.
*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.
Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.