Quiet City Maps

Are quiet restaurants only for the rich?

seems to think so, as she writes that “[i]n some places, quiet is becoming a luxury amenity.” Ferst comes to this conclusion after speaking to acoustic engineering firms and a handful of restaurateurs, including Alex Stupak, the owner of Empellon Midtown. When Stupak opened Empellon Midtown he considered the sound quality–and spent real money on sound absorption panels–because of a review of his “scrappier” downtown space that praised the food while noting the loud music and “shouty” guests. So in went the sound absorption panels, but only at his pricier midtown space.

Ferst writes about the conventional wisdom that loud music in restaurants started with the opening of Babbo in 1998, “when Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich decided to play the music the kitchen listened to in the dining room.” She quotes Batali, who said that:

We played music that we liked at full volume. We didn’t do it to piss people off. We did it to set a mood.

But it’s obvious that Batali did piss some people off, however unintended. Unfortunately, the noise levels in New York City restaurants did not get serious attention until 2013, when Adam Platt, NY Magazine’s restaurant critic, wrote, “Why Restaurants Are Louder Than Ever.” And what was the reaction? Ferst writes that “restaurateurs began to dial back the noise — at least at places where comfort is an integral part of the experience and there’s money to spend on a build-out.” The rest of Ferst’s piece focuses on the measures taken in tonier restaurants to ensure that guests don’t get a side of tinnitus with their overpriced meal.

But what about the rest of us? At Alex Stupak’s downtown space, Empellon Al Pastor, Stupak says that “he’s trying to make it ‘as loud as humanly possible on purpose.'” Why? Because it’s meant to be a place for “drinking and a party.” Says Stupak, “We invested in the best speakers and amplifiers. We want them to get drunk.”

Note to self: never ever go to Empellon Al Pastor. And you know what? Might as well skip Empellon Midtown too, because there is no reason to reward someone who worries about whether his pricier restaurant is acoustically pleasing to his wealthier patrons, but thinks it’s okay to make his restaurant for commoners “as loud as humanly possible on purpose.” That is, at Silencity we believe the best way to encourage restaurateurs to lower the noise level–and protect your hearing–is to refuse to eat at restaurants that are too loud or to hand over your money to a restaurateur who is indifferent to noise.

While it may be true that higher end restaurants are more likely to address noise in their restaurants, you can find comfortable places to eat or drink in most cities. It takes some effort, but they exist. If you are lucky, your local restaurant reviewers will note the loudness of restaurants they review.  And if you live or work in New York City and want to know which restaurants are safer for your ears, you’re in luck! Our sister site, Quiet City Maps, posts reviews of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other spaces where you can have a nosh or a drink and a conversation.

Despite complaints, restaurant noise continues unabated

by Daniel Fink, MD

Ever since I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis from a one-time exposure to loud restaurant noise, I have been looking for a quiet restaurant (see the Acknowledgements section at the end of my editorial in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, “What Is a Safe Noise Level for the Public?“).

It turns out I’m not the only one complaining about restaurant noise.

Restaurant noise is the number one complaint of diners in New York, San Francisco, Portland OR, and Boston.  In fact, the Boston Globe just recently wrote about diners’ dislike of restaurant noise in a piece titled, “Listen up: Restaurants are too loud!

Restaurant owners may think that noise increases food and beverage sales, and decreases time spent at the table, and they are right.  But what they cannot measure is how many meals are lost because people like me don’t go to noisy restaurants with family or friends, choosing to dine at home, instead, where we can converse as we enjoy our meal. Perhaps restauranteurs should consider that we middle-aged folks are more likely to spend money in restaurants than other demographic groups.  After all, for many of us our kids are done with college, our mortgages are paid off, we’ve been saving for retirement, and we have the disposable income to enjoy a nice meal out more frequently than in our youth.  If there were quieter restaurants, we might dine out more often instead of avoiding them because we would rather not have a side of hearing loss with our steak frites.

I guess that as long as the restaurants are busy, they will stay noisy. But if enough of us speak up–in the restaurants and to our elected representatives, asking them to pass laws requiring some limits on indoor noise–restaurants will eventually get quieter.

Dr. 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 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.

UK charity takes on restaurant noise

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Action on Hearing Loss launched Speak Easy, its campaign that asked restaurants, cafes, and pubs “to take noise off the menu,” this past summer.  Last week, the organization announced that its free Speak Easy Campaign Pack is available to the public.  The pack includes:

  • Discreet, supportive materials to hand over to staff or leave with your bill.
  • Ideas for sending effective feedback.
  • A thumb prop for expressing your views on social media.

Action on Hearing Loss understands that “[r]epeat customers are the lifeblood of restaurants, cafes and pubs,” and that millions of people would like to enjoy a meal or drink out at a quieter venue.  Rather than waiting for places to discover this underserved market, they are giving Brits the tools they need to demand quieter options.

Although there isn’t a similar campaign in the U.S.–yet–readers who live or work in New York City can find quieter venues by visiting our sister site, Quiet City Maps, which reviews and rates the noise level and comfortability of New York City restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and more.  Whether you’re at your desk planning a night out with friends, or on your smart phone looking for a nearby quiet place, Quiet City Maps can help you quickly find the perfect place to eat, drink, and have a conversation!

Why do elderly people with otherwise normal hearing have difficulty hearing some conversations?

Background noise to blame for the elderly being unable to keep up with conversations.  The Express reports on a University of Maryland study that found that “adults aged 61-73 with normal hearing scored significantly worse on speech understanding in noisy environments than adults aged 18-30 with normal hearing.”  The study’s authors stated that the “ageing midbrain and cortex is part of ongoing research into the so-called cocktail party problem, or the brain’s ability to focus on and process a particular stream of speech in the middle of a noisy environment.”  Because many older people who are affected by the “cocktail party problem” have normal hearing, the study notes that talking louder doesn’t help.  If an older person can see the person he or she is speaking to, visual cues can help, as well as the obvious–make the environment quieter.

Sadly, many restaurants, bars, and some coffee shops are just too noisy for older people to be able to hear well and participate in conversation.  Organized efforts to push back against unnecessary noise are gaining a toehold in the public sphere, but more needs to be done.  Until things improve, New Yorkers can find some respite by visiting our sister site, Quiet City Maps, for a guide to New York City’s quieter spaces (and a heads-up for places to avoid).

And don’t forget that if a restaurant or coffee shop is too noisy because of loud music, ask them to lower it.  If they don’t, leave and tell them why you won’t be coming back.  Push back starts with your wallet.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

Eater’s Updated Guide to What’s Wrong With Restaurants Today

So what is the number one complaint?  You guessed it–noise.  What will the response be from restauranteurs?  If the past is any indication, nothing.  Until people refuse to eat at restaurants that serve a side of tinnitus with their meal, nothing will happen.  We at Silencity believe in voting with your wallet.  If enough people ask that music be lowered or complain to the manager about noise, eventually something will be done.  So be sure to tell the owner or manager why you won’t be returning to their restaurant or why you’ll pass on a table.  And while we wait for restauranteurs to react, go to our sister site, Quiet City Maps, and let them help you find a relatively quiet restaurant, bar, or coffee shop in noisy New York City.

Dear restaurant owners: we don’t go to your restaurants to listen to music!

Brits complain that minimalist decor and loud music are driving them away from restaurants.  Action on Hearing Loss, a British charity, has conducted a survey in which they found that “90 per cent of people with hearing difficulties felt background noise was the biggest problem they faced when eating out.”  The survey also found that “79 per cent of [respondents] said they had left an establishment early because of the sound levels and 91 per cent of those asked said they wouldn’t go back to a noisy venue.” 

Not mentioned in the article is the theory that restauranteurs deliberately play loud music in an attempt to scare away older customers, since these restauranteurs must all covet a younger crowd that presumably loves stereocilia-destroying music.  If true, they will no doubt ignore the advice offered in the articl to temper the loud volume, but they should not ignore the warning noted in the piece.  Namely, Action on Hearing Loss “is now hoping to develop an app which will allow people to take a decibel recording for restaurants, posting it onto a forum and allowing people to avoid particularly noisy establishments.” 

New Yorkers already have a tool they can use to help them avoid mind-numbingly loud restaurants.  Our sister site, Quiet City Maps, reviews noise levels of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, parks and privately owned public spaces throughout the city.  Click on the link to read the reviews and to check out the map, which shows you the good, the bad, and the ugly with easy to understand color icons.  A mobile app is in the works, so please send any suggestions of (relatively) quiet places their way.

 

Remember when you could enjoy a meal with friends without screaming through your meal?

Those days could be coming back: Why quiet restaurants are having a moment.

Debora Robertson, writing for The Telegraph, reports about the efforts by Svante Borjesson, director of the hearing charity Oir es Clave (“Hearing is Key”), who has launched an initiative called “Eating Without Noise.”  Borjesson signed up 22 restaurants to join the initiative, though most seem on the higher end.  Which is a shame, because a comfortable restaurant should be available for everyonthe rich. That said, when you consider the effect noise has on the dining experience, it’s foolhardy for any restaurateur to ignore the acoustics of their restaurants.  As Robertson notes:

Restaurateurs who pay more attention to the art on their walls than acoustics might want to rethink. The quiet restaurant movement is backed up science. A recent Cornell University study found that decibels definitely have an impact on deliciousness.

Yep, noise affects flavor.  And it’s important is to remember that a visit to a restaurant, especially with family or friends, is about much more than the food.  Robertson writes:

Most of us go to restaurants not just for the food, but also to enjoy the company of our friends. If we can’t hear what they’re saying, we might as well stay at home with Netflix and a bowl of pasta. But there are few things more enjoyable than sitting in a beautiful restaurant, eating something wonderful, catching up on the latest scandals and (possibly) watching other diners creating scandals of their own. Is it too much to ask for the gentle, sound-absorbing comfort of a well-insulated floor, the odd soft banquette, perhaps – whisper it – a tiny swathe of curtain?

Short answer: No, it’s not too much to ask.

And this is the perfect opportunity to introduce our sister site, Quiet City Maps, where we review restaurants, coffee shops, bars, parks, and privately owned public spaces based on how loud they are (or, one hopes, aren’t).  The focus at Quiet City Maps is comfort, i.e., whether the space allows for easy conversation.  We have started in Manhattan and hope to launch an app before very long.  And then?  Onward to Brooklyn, Queens, and points beyond!

Link via @QuietMark.

Quiet City Map: Manhattan℠

We are happy to announce the launch of our sister site, Quiet City Map.   Quiet City Map is home to Quiet City Map: Manhattan℠, a map-based guide to places through out Manhattan where the sound levels are reliably comfortable (and, sadly, some places that are best avoided).  The map provides ratings for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, public spaces (e.g., parks, squares, and privately owned public spaces (POPs)), museums and retail stores according to sound level and sound quality.   Quiet City Map will host both the map and individual reviews for each map entry.  We hope that you find Quiet City Map: Manhattan℠ a useful guide as you navigate the city.