Restaurant noise

Readers react to Austrialian piece on restaurant noise

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

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A few days ago the Adelaide InDaily ran a column by food writer Rainer Jozeps about Adelaide “plague of shouty cafes and restaurants.”

And readers have responded.

Both Jozeps’ article and the responses could have been written about restaurant noise in any major city in the English-speaking world. Simply put, restaurants have become too loud and customers actively avoid the noisier ones.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Australia, but restaurant noise is also a problem in England, Scotland, and Wales, and, of course, the U.S. On the other hand, restaurants in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal–where food and dining may be more valued–seem quieter to me.

I haven’t seen any scientific studies comparing restaurant noise in different countries, but I would welcome them and anticipate that they would confirm my less than scientific observations.

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.

Dining out is about more than the food on your plate

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Cape Gazette food writer Bob Yesbek discusses the many different aspects of restaurant noise. Yesbek notes that complaints about restaurant noise are among the most frequent he receives, and discusses some of the science behind complaints about restaurant noise. He also reports that some restaurants are concerned enough about their patrons’ dining comfort to try to deal with noise issues.

I believe that if enough people complain to enough restaurant owners and managers, it’s possible that restaurants will become quieter. Based on my experience with getting smoke-free restaurants, though, I think complaining to one’s local elected officials to get quiet restaurant ordinances passed will be quicker and more effective.

Because noise isn’t just a nuisance. Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

And restaurant noise is a disability rights issue for people with hearing loss and other auditory disorders.

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.

9 ways restaurants have changed in the past decade

Photo credit: Arild Finne Nybø licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by The New York Times food critic Pete Wells discusses the eight ways Wells thinks restaurants have changed in the past decade. I would add one more to his list: they have become noisier.

As documented by the creator of the restaurant noise app SoundPrint, restaurants and bars in Manhattan are unpleasantly, even dangerously noisy.

Many other reports over the decade, in newspapers ranging from The New York Times to the Boston Globe to the Philadelphia Enquirer to the Los Angeles Times, have documented noisy restaurants.

And, of course, the Zagat surveys report that restaurant noise was a leading complaint, first or second in most of the annual surveys.

Those of us old enough to remember when secondhand smoke used to bother us in restaurants know that we eventually were able to get smoke-free restaurants, bars, and then workplaces, airplanes, and in some cities and states even smoke-free beaches and parks. Our efforts were aided when the EPA designated secondhand smoke to be a Class A carcinogen with no safe lower level of exposure.

Noise is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, sometimes after a single exposure to loud noise. It can wake people from sleep, disrupt attention, interfere with children’s learning, and even cause non-cardiac disease like hypertension and cardiovascular disease. I recently summarized the nine evidence-based noise levels affecting human health and function. Based on the indisputable evidence showing that noise is harmful, I presented a new definition of noise at the 178th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in San Diego, California, on December 3, 2019: Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

Voluntary efforts to make restaurants quieter, and restaurant noise apps like SoundPrint and iHEARu are helpful, but by themselves are unlikely to lead to quieter restaurants soon.

I’m pretty sure legislation will be required. And if enough people complain to their elected representatives often enough and, I daresay, loudly enough, eventually legislation will be passed mandating quieter restaurants.

DISCLOSURE: I serve as unpaid Medical Advisor to SoundPrint.

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.

The quest for quiet dining

Photo credit: Jane023 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Brooke Randle in the Mountain Express, Asheville, North Carolina, discusses the problem of restaurant noise.

There’s nothing really new in Randle’s story, but any report that spreads the word about the problem of ambient noise in restaurants is important.

Because if a restaurant sounds too loud, it is too loud. And if enough people understand this, and complain to their elected representatives about restaurant noise–as we did about being forced to breathe secondhand smoke in restaurants in the 1980s and 1990s–eventually restaurants will be required to be quieter, just as they are now required to be smoke-free.

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 critic discusses restaurant noise

Photo credit: Lou Stejskal licensed under CC BY 2.0

This interesting piece by San Francisco Chronicle’s restaurant critic Soleil Ho tries to balance all aspects of restaurant noise. I think she does an excellent job discussing various aspects of restaurant noise, including costly technological solutions to the noise problem, except for one thing: ambient noise in restaurants is a major disability rights issue.

The good news is that it’s feasible to make restaurants quieter. If enough people ask restaurant managers to turn down the music, if enough people ask their elected representatives for quiet restaurant legislation, this will happen.

Remember when almost all restaurants were filled with secondhand smoke?  Now we enjoy pleasant, healthier, smoke-free restaurants. And in the future, I am confident we will be able to dine in quieter restaurants, enjoying both the meal and the conversation with our dining companions.

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.

The world’s most accessible museum?

Photo credit: David Samuel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times describes the new Wellcome Museum in London, which was specifically designed to be accessible to those with visual, auditory, and mobility issues. The piece also mentions an exhibit at the Tate Museum that was inaccessible to those in wheelchairs because it had two steps at the entrance, and of a public monument to a century-old labor dispute that was also not accessible to those who couldn’t climb steps. The main idea is that those in the UK who design museums, art exhibits, and public monuments are now aware that these places, designed for the public, should be accessible to as many people as possible.

The same principle of universal access should apply to restaurant design and other public spaces. Ambient noise in restaurants makes it difficult if not impossible for those with hearing loss to understand speech. And designing restaurants and public spaces with a goal toward reducing noise levels will make it easier for everyone to converse with their dining companions, not just the hard of hearing.

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? For the hearing impaired, that’s discrimination

Photo credit: Dmitry Zvolskiy from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Citing noise as discrimination, Joyce Cohen, writing for the Washington Post, goes after the restaurant industry. I’m grateful that Ms. Cohen relied on The Quiet Coalition Chair, Dr. Daniel Fink, in this terrific piece, and that she did her homework to get the facts straight.

I hope this kind of reporting will lead to changes in the restaurant industry, which, thanks to Yelp and Zagat and restaurant reviewers at newspapers like the Washington Post, are showing that noise is the number one complaint of restaurant goers. Let’s hope that restaurant owners are finally waking up to the fact that too much noise is actually bad for business.

And congratulations to the Washington Post for taking on this industry and it’s egregious practices! This article has certainly opened up the conversation about restaurant noise and disability.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Why boomers hate restaurants targeting millennials

Photo credit: Evonics from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Baby boomers, those of us born between 1946 and 1964 and, therefore, now 55 to 73 years old, hate noisy restaurants. As this article by Sara Zeff Geber in Forbes notes, we remember when restaurants were quiet enough to enjoy both the food and the conversation. That’s rarely possible now.

As Geber notes, changes in restaurant design, and a belief that a noisy restaurant is a trendy hip one, make it difficult if not impossible to find quiet restaurants in most American cities.

More people lead busy lives and have more disposable income, so restaurants are busier than ever and restaurateurs see no need to change what they are doing.

But restaurant noise is a disability rights issue for those with hearing loss and other auditory disorders. And noise levels in many restaurants and bars are high enough to cause hearing loss.

It’s clear that market forces won’t solve the problem of restaurant noise. So what can we do? If enough people complain to enough elected officials, someone somewhere will take action 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.

Restaurant noise a problem in Maine

Photo credit: Paul VanDerWerf licensed under CC BY2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Nancy Harmon Jenkins in the Portland Press Herald discusses restaurant noise in Maine, where enjoyment of fresh, locally caught or harvested food is undercut by too noisy restaurants.

When will restaurateurs get the message: turn down the volume of amplified sound? If restaurant patrons wanted to attend a rock concert, we would. But what we actually want to do is enjoy a meal and conversation with our dining companions.

Thanks to Lisa Beach 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.

Another report about restaurant noise

Photo credit: Brett Sayles from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in USA Today, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the U.S. with global reach, again highlights the problem of restaurant noise. Restaurant noise is now the leading complaint of restaurant patrons in Zagat surveys, this year edging out the usual leading complaints of poor service and high prices. The article also cites the recent Washington Post article about the disability rights aspects of restaurant noise, in which I am extensively quoted.

Restaurant noise isn’t just a discomfort issue or a disability rights issue. It’s a health and public health issue.

In many restaurants and bars, noise levels exceed 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA), and according to the World Health Organization, only one hour exposure at 85 dBA can cause hearing loss.

I wear inconspicuous plastic ear plugs in noisy restaurants to protect my hearing, and so should you. And you don’t need a sound meter app on your smart phone to know if the ambient noise is too high: If you have to strain to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, and your hearing is at risk.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.