Restaurant noise

Loud restaurant noise drives away people with auditory disorders

Photo credi: Franklin Heijnen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Marcella Bernanrdo, from the Vancouver CityNews, reports that loud restaurant noise is driving away people with hearing loss, because they can’t understand speech in noisy environments.

Ambient noise is a disability rights issue for those with auditory disorders. Right now, both the Canadian and U.S. economies appear strong and restaurants are busy, so no wonder restaurateurs see no need to make restaurants quieter even though restaurant noise is a major complaint even for those with normal hearing.

Given the lack of economic incentive, it will likely require legal action under disability rights law, or local action by dedicated activists demanding ordinances regulating noise, to make restaurants quieter.

I say there is no time like the present–get online, find your local politician, and ask him or her where they stand on noise.

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.

Restaurant noise in the news once again

Photo credit: Franklin Heijnen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Ellie Violet Bramley in The Guardian discusses the ongoing problem of restaurant noise. Bramley interviews Greg Scott, founder of the SoundPrint app, who discusses the problems those with hearing impairment encounter trying to understand speech in a noisy environment. But as Bramley notes, the inability to clearly hear one’s companions is a problem for those with normal hearing, too.

Apparently some restaurant operators are getting the message, though. As Bramley concludes, people want restaurants in which they can converse easily with their dining companions.

DISCLOSURE: I serve as Medical Advisor to SoundPrint.

Thanks to Arnold Gordon from Cut Absurdly Loud Movie Sound (CALMS) for bringing this article to our attention.

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.

Frank Bruni just wants a quiet restaurant, please

Photo credit:  licensed under

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this wide-ranging column, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who used to be the TImes’ restaurant critic, discusses how what one looks for in a restaurant changes with age.  One of the things he wants now in a restaurant is one quiet enough so he can converse with his dining partners.

Successive Zagat surveys show that restaurant noise is a major complaint, and not just for older patrons.  Bruni also points out that old diners are the ones with the resources to dine out, and that we tend to patronize the restaurants we like again and again.

When will the restaurant owners realize that quieter restaurants are good for business?

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.

 

 

Obesity recognized as a disability rights issue, is hearing loss next?

Photo credit: Jennifer Morrow licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Kim Severson in the New York Times discusses challenges very obese people face when eating in restaurants–many times they are too large to fit comfortably in the seats–and what restaurants are doing to accommodate them.

When will restaurants also make accommodations for those with hearing loss, who find it difficult if not impossible to communicate when the ambient noise levels are too high?

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.

Restaurant noise could cost customers

Photo credit: James Palinsa licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Mary Bilyeu, The Toledo Blade, shows that noisy restaurants aren’t just a problem in coastal cities like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.  The reporter also notes that many people avoid noisy restaurants, and, as the headline intimates, this might be costing the restaurants customers.

The only problem is that as long as most restaurants are busy enough, restaurateurs have no incentive to make them quieter. This is true even when most people want quieter restaurants, which makes this a clear-cut case of market failure crying out for regulatory intervention.

The article also mentions someone’s older parents who use hearing aids and couldn’t converse in a noisy restaurant. I believe that restaurant noise is a disability rights issue and that needs regulatory intervention, too.

If enough people complain about restaurant noise to enough elected officials, often enough and again and again, eventually restaurants will become quieter.

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.

Noisy restaurants are a problem in Seattle

Photo credit: Joe Mabel licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Jill Lightner, The Seattle Times, discusses noisy restaurants in the Seattle area. Lightner reports that indeed restaurants have gotten louder, and discusses some of the reasons why. She also reports that when people contact her, their most common request isn’t for a good restaurant, or an exciting new one, but for a quiet one.

This isn’t a new complaint. In the last few years, Zagat surveys document restaurant noise as the first or second most common complaint, alternating with poor service depending on the city and the year.

If the markets don’t provide what people really want, that’s an example of what the economists call market failure. Government intervention by laws and regulations is necessary.

To those of us old enough to remember when smoking was allowed in restaurants, the issue of restaurant noise is akin to smoke-filled bars and restaurants. In fact, people have stated, “noise is the new secondhand smoke.”

In those ancient days, most people wanted smoke-free restaurants, but the tobacco lobby falsely pushed claims of smoking as a personal liberty issue, and those who complained were viewed as selfish, neurotic, or un-American. Finally, a combination of continued public pressure and the EPA determination that secondhand smoke was a Class A carcinogen, with no safe lower level of exposure, did lead to laws and regulations banning smoking indoors. We all live more comfortable and healthier lives as a result.

Similarly, noisy restaurants are an example of market failure.

Lightner wrongly states in her article that auditory damage begins after two hours exposure to 90 decibel (dB) sound. But, in fact, the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 dB time-weighted average for a day, and it’s mathematically impossible to achieve that exposure level after two hours at 90 dB. As this article notes, most American adults get exposed to enough noise in everyday life to cause hearing loss. The article adds that the auditory injury threshold is 75 to 78 A-weighted decibels.

You don’t need expensive equipment or even a sound meter app on your smartphone to measure this. If you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient sound is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

Quieter restaurants aren’t just a matter of being able to converse with your dining companions.  They are an issue of auditory health.  Ask your elected officials at the local, state, and national level to enact legislation to require quieter restaurants.

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.

As restaurant noise rises, will diners take their money elsewhere?

Photo credit: Boon Low licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I added the question mark to the headline from this article by Debra Pressey in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette because I disagree with the headline. Pressey describes the research of University of Illinois professor Pasquale Bottalico, which found that even young people have difficulty conversing in noisy situations. He also asked them if the higher noise levels would make them less likely to dine in noisy restaurants, and they said, “Yes.” Professor Bottalico plans to repeat his research in an older population.

The only problem with the research–and the reason I added the question mark–is that most often there are no quiet restaurants to go to. This study by Greg Scott, founder of the SoundPrint restaurant noise app, documents the extent of the problem in Manhattan.

I anticipate that when sufficient data are gathered in other cities, similar sound levels will be reported.

Noise is a health and public health hazard.  Ambient noise in restaurants is also a disability rights issue. If enough people complain to enough local city council members, maybe something will be done to make restaurants quieter.

If the U.S. could make restaurants smoke-free, it can make them quieter, too.

DISCLOSURE. Dr. Fink serves as Medical Advisor to SoundPrint, which is mentioned in this article.

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.

Is background music a human rights violation?

Guildford Arms, a Quiet Scotland approved pub | Photo credit: alljengi licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

It is according to Quiet Scotland, writes Tony Diver, The HeraldQuiet Scotland describes itself as “an informal group of Scottish residents who campaign for freedom from unwanted background music in cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, GPs’ surgeries, hospital waiting rooms, and other public places.” Diver tells us that Quiet Scotland began in 2012 and has around 200 members. It’s goal is simple–to persuade restaurants and retail establishments to shut off the background music.

To encourage businesses, and help those who just want to eat and shop in a quiet space, the group maintains a list of music-free places in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland’s biggest cities. The group is also asking the general public to help out, by offering feedback cards that allow customers to rate spaces based on how loud they are.

As Anne Wellman, the group’s treasurer explained, they started out as a branch of Pipedown, an English organization. But since piped music has a different meaning in Scotland, they soon changed the name to Quiet Scotland “because everybody who joined intensely dislikes background music played in public places.” Says Wellman, “[t]hink of the types of music you don’t like, and then have that blasted at you when you’re trying to eat. Because that’s mostly the case.”

Wellman adds that loud background music is not just annoying. Rather, for people who have a medical condition like tinnitus, autism, or hearing loss, background music is actively distressing. And for them, she suggests, “disability legislation designed to protect those with medical conditions from discrimination could be applied to the loudness of music in public places.”

While some may scoff, Wellman compares Quiet Scotland’s actions to anti-smoking campaigns in the past. “There was a point at which that was laughed at, and then it reached a tipping point when people actually started to agree,” she said.

 

 

Restaurants are louder than ever, and here’s what’s being done about it

Photo credit: Herry Lawford licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the Buffalo News discusses restaurant noise and the many fixes that can be done to make existing restaurants quieter. I have met Paul Battaglia, the architecture professor mentioned in the article, at meetings of the Institute for Noise Control Engineering. As he explained to me then, and as he said in the article, restaurant noise is not an inevitable accompaniment to dining.

Some of us believe that noise is the new secondhand smoke. Sadly, it appears that when restaurants are busy, restaurant owners have no incentive to make restaurants quieter. Some self-identified libertarians have told me, “people don’t really want quiet restaurants. If they did, the ‘invisible hand’ of economics would lead to quieter restaurants being more popular than noisy ones, and the problem would be solved.”

My response is that the restaurant noise issue, just like the secondhand smoke issue, is an example of market failure. Obtaining quieter restaurants will likely require government action, as did obtaining smoke-free restaurants. People don’t yet understand that many restaurants are loud enough to damage hearing, or that ambient noise in restaurants, preventing speech comprehension in those with hearing loss, is a disability rights issue.

I am certain that when people understand that their hearing is being damaged, they will push their elected officials to set standards for quiet restaurants.

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.

How restaurants got so loud

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Kate Wagner, writing for The Atlantic Monthly, discusses the architectural and interior design changes that make restaurants so loud. At the moment, restaurants are full so there is no economic incentive for restaurateurs to make them quieter. Just as there was no economic incentive for restaurateurs to make restaurants smoke-free.

In many restaurants, ambient noise is high enough to cause auditory damage. And in most others, it is high enough to make it impossible for anyone with hearing loss, which includes most Americans over age 65, to participate in conversations.

I used to think that if enough patrons complained about restaurant noise, the restaurateurs would make restaurants quieter. But now I think that, as with getting smoke-free restaurants, legislation is needed.

Think globally, act locally. If anyone has a friend or family member serving on a local city council or town meeting, please ask them to take action to make restaurants quieter.

I can guarantee that people will still patronize restaurants when they are quieter. In fact, I think business will probably increase when people see that they can enjoy their steak frites without a side order of hearing loss.

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.