Restaurants

Use SoundPrint app on International Noise Awareness Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Acoustical Society of America is encouraging people to observe International Noise Awareness Day on April 25 by using the SoundPrint app for smart phones to record and post restaurant noise levels.

That sounds like a good idea to me.

DISCLOSURE: I am the Medical Advisor for SoundPrint.

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.

It’s not just the noise level in restaurants but the type of noise that matters

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This Denver Post article correctly makes the point that patrons don’t want a too noisy restaurant but they don’t want a too quiet one, either.

There is a fine balance between ambient noise levels that allow one to converse with your dining companions, but are loud or complex enough to mask conversations from nearby tables.

And the quality of the noise–is it sharp, tinkling, reverberating?–also makes a difference in the restaurant experience.

The article also notes that it’s hard to design the right sound environment into the restaurant and that adjustments are often needed after a restaurant opens.

DISCLOSURE: The article mentions the SoundPrint app for measuring restaurant noise. I serve as the Medical Advisor to SoundPrint.

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.

Who likes restaurant noise?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Loud restaurants are my bȇte noire.  What fuels my noise activism–aside from a wish to prevent hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis in anyone who doesn’t have these auditory disorders–is a desire to find a quiet enough restaurant where I can enjoy the food and a conversation with my wife. This report from Florida indicates that it’s not just older folks who want quiet restaurants, but almost everyone.

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.

Finally, restaurateurs think about how noise affects taste

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

Betsy Andrews, SevenFiftyDaily, reports on “[n]ew research [that] is causing restaurant and bar owners to rethink noise control in their venues.” Andrews writes about Jim Meehan, a forward thinking bar owner, who “wanted a place where he could hear.” So Meehan hired Scott McNiece, the founder of the Chicago-based company Uncanned Music, who designs acoustics for restaurants.

The result was a space where “[t]he muted sound helps patrons relax and focus, not only on their companions but on Meehan’s cocktails.”  Meehan is pleased as is his business partner, Kevin Heisner, who believes noise “dings not just moods but palates.”  And Andrews dives into the world of the science of dining, introducing us to the researchers who are discovering that noise does affect taste.

But the most exciting bit of news from the piece comes at the end, when Andrews speaks to Dallas architect Rick Carrell, whose firm has designed spaces for large chain clients like Panera Bread and Starbucks. Carrell tells Andrews that, “[c]lients are very concerned with noise now. They don’t see it as a motivator like they did 10 years ago.”

Thank goodness.  It’s about time.

Click the link above to read the entire article.

Groundbreaking research proves restaurants are too noisy

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

New York based researcher Greg Scott presented a groundbreaking study Tuesday, December 5th, at the 174th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. Scott reported actual decibel measurements, obtained using the free IOS SoundPrint app he developed, on almost 2,000 restaurants and bars in New York City. The average sound level was 78 A-weighted decibels (dBA) in restaurants, and 81 dBA in bars.

Even people with normal hearing can’t understand speech if the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, which is also the auditory injury threshold (the noise level at which hearing damage begins). People with moderate hearing loss–25-40 dB decrement in hearing–need ambient noise lower than 60 dBA to be able to understand speech.

The SoundPrint app is easy to use and can help find quieter restaurants and the rare quiet bar. But it is clear to me–as I stated in my own talk, which preceded Greg’s–that high ambient noise in restaurants and retail stores is a disability rights issue for people with hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees people with disabilities the full and equal enjoyment of places of public accommodation, which are basically any facility open to the public. If one can’t hear in a noisy place, one’s ADA rights are being violated. It is likely that legal action will be required to make these places quieter.

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.

Another reason to avoid fast food and chain restaurants

Photo credit: Mike Mozart licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My wife and I don’t eat in restaurants much anymore–the vast majority are just too noisy to enjoy both the meal and the conversation–and we don’t patronize fast food or chain restaurants. Burgers and fries and sodas are just not healthy food, and I try to stay healthy.

But for those who do, according to Culture Cheat Sheet noise is a major problem, joining a list of complaints that includes dirty spaces, bad service, and bad food. Culture Cheat Sheet cobbled together survey results from Consumer Reports, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and Temkin Experience Ratings to come up with their report on the most hated restaurant and fast food chains.

Most fast food and chain restaurants use a formula of tasty but unhealthy food with too much fat, too much sugar, too much salt, and too many calories at a relatively low price to lure customers.

Research shows a clear correlation between the density of fast food restaurants in neighborhoods–largely poor neighborhoods populated by African-American and Hispanic people–and obesity. The epidemic of obesity in the U.S. is related to changes in eating patterns–fast food, sugary sodas, bigger portions–and decreased exercise.

But now it appears that these restaurants also serve up a side order of hearing loss with their food. Because noise is causing an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss, too.

And that’s another reason to avoid these restaurants.

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.

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.

Noisy restaurants irk Brits

Photo credit: Garry Knight licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Trying to make restaurants quieter was my first noise activist effort almost three years ago. When I started, I was a lonely voice but now–whether because more people are aware of noise as a problem, or because restaurants are getting noisier–the ubiquitous problem of restaurant noise is receiving almost weekly media attention here in the U.S. and abroad. In fact, two British dailies recently wrote about restaurant noise in the same 24-hour period, spurred on by a campaign against noise by the British nonprofit Action on Hearing Loss. [Note: You must register to read either story, but registration is free.]

No one likes regulations, but when there are almost no quiet restaurants around, advising people to avoid noisy restaurants and dine only at quiet ones isn’t a realistic option.

But if enough people complain to enough elected officials, perhaps indoor quiet laws will be passed.

Sound impossible?  Well that’s how restaurants, and then bars and workplaces, became smoke free. One city introduced a law banning smoking in restaurants, and when others saw that the sky didn’t fall, they adopted these laws, too.

I’m confident that when the public realizes that deafening noise levels in restaurants are as bad for their hearing (and probably their balance as well) as secondhand smoke is for their heart and lungs, they will demand quieter restaurants.

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.

Who is to blame for noisy restaurants?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noisy restaurants seem to be in the news these days. Almost every week, The Quiet Coalition comes across another article or television report about them. This piece from the Daily Mail is one of the few that provides names and numbers–the names of the restaurants and actual decibel readings from a sound level meter–and the sound levels they reported were loud enough to damage hearing.

What can you do to protect yourself? You don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud (although we encourage everyone to install one on a smart phone–very accurate ones are available). The auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 A-weighted decibels (dBA). If you have to strain to speak or to hear while trying to have a normal conversation at 3-to-4 feet distance–the usual social distance for speaking or dining in the U.S.–the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, and your hearing is being damaged.

And once it’s gone, the only remedy is hearing aids.

So who is to blame for noisy restaurants? This report from Australia doesn’t blame anyone in particular, but suggests the culprit is minimalist design trends. We would add that crowded dining areas, low ceilings, and, of course, background music turned up to rock concert levels do not help.

Before the mass adoption of the industrial look in restaurant design, restaurants used to be carpeted, with drapery covering the windows, upholstered banquettes lining the walls, and white tablecloths covering every table. One went to a restaurant to dine and to converse. It is obvious that design trends have changed dramatically over the last two decades or so. Newer restaurant designs with open kitchens that allow the clanging of pots and pans to be heard in the dining area and hard floor and wall surfaces (e.g., glass, metal, polished cement, and tile) that reflect rather than absorb sound are certainly part of the problem.

As a result, restaurant noise is now the leading complaint of diners in many cities, according to the 2016 Zagat annual survey, and just barely in second place nationally, slightly behind bad service. As the twelve-step programs might say: First, you have to accept that you have a problem.

The important thing is that the problem of restaurant noise is finally being recognized, and now that we know that restaurant noise is a problem, we can start doing something about it. Some have suggested avoiding noisy restaurants or walking out if the restaurant is too noisy. But that isn’t a realistic choice in most cities. If one did that, one would never go to a restaurant. Instead, ask the manager to turn down the volume of amplified music, and if he or she refuses, tell them that you are leaving and will never return, and that you will tell everyone you know to avoid the place. Tell your city council and mayor that you want quieter restaurants. And post accurate and detailed reviews on Yelp, Open Table, and social media. Let the restaurant owner or manager, and those who read restaurant reviews on social media, know that “the food was excellent, but the place was so loud that we are never going back.”

If enough of us complain and demand quieter spaces, then restaurateurs will have to respond. Or they can ignore us at their peril.

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.

Noisy restaurants in the news again

Photo credit: Matt Biddulph licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Two reports this week, one from the United Kingdom and one from Baton Rouge, again highlight the problem of noisy restaurants.

Restaurateurs say that a quiet restaurant is a dead or dying one. They want their places to be lively. But there’s a difference between a lively restaurant with spirited conversations going on among the diners, and one that is deafeningly loud, making it impossible to converse with one’s dining companions.

Yesterday, while looking for another piece of information in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) classic 1974 “Noise Levels Report” Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety (EPA, 1974). I came across Table D-10, which I had missed on an earlier reading.

EPA Recommended Acceptable Noise Levels for Restaurants  (Click to enlarge)

It turns out that the EPA recommends that restaurants be very quiet, only about 50-60 decibels. These days, that’s almost “library quiet”. In fact, some months ago I measured the sound level to be approximately 45 dBA in the main circulation room of my local library!

So concern about appropriate restaurant noise levels is not a new concern. It’s decades old.

Some have suggested that diners should walk out of noisy restaurants, or boycott them. But in many cities, if we did that, we would never eat in a restaurant. There just aren’t any quiet ones. And as long as the restaurants are full, there is no incentive for them to become quieter.

I don’t know about the UK, but in the U.S., lawsuits under disability rights laws may be the only way restaurants will become quieter.

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.