Restaurant noise

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.

World’s worst restaurant concept?

We are going with yes, and we couldn’t care less about the food. Why? Because the owners of the Noisy Cafe have foisted on the world one of the worst “one-of-its-kind” concepts ever: they actively encourage patrons “to create meaningless noise.” It is really that awful?  Well, Prutha Bhosle, the poor soul tasked with reviewing the restaurant for Midday.com writes:

A surprise awaited us when the bill arrived. The steward brought along a sound meter. And then came the bizarre request – laugh out loud into the device to win a discount.

After hitting 119 dB (decible) with a pretend laugh, we were given a discount of nine per cent on the total bill. A customer who crosses the 110 dB mark, gets a concession. Stupid? We think so too.

 

A fascinating study about restaurant noise

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Restaurant noise is a problem for patrons trying to converse with their dining companions, and a common complaint in the Zagat survey.

When ambient noise is loud, people raise their voices to increase the speech to noise or signal to noise ratio to help others hear what they are saying. This creates a positive feedback loop, where everyone increases how loud they are speaking, until it’s so loud that no one can understand anything being said. The phenomenon, called the Lombard effect or cocktail party effect, has been known for a long time.

This study in the world’s most prestigious acoustical journal, the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, adds to our knowledge of how restaurant noise affects understanding of speech. The researchers studied speech in a sound booth at different ambient noise levels. The sound level of speech increased as ambient noise increased. Subjects reported disturbance of speech beginning at 52.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA), with vocal effort beginning to increase at 57.3 dBA. The researchers noted that as background noise increased, it triggered a decrease in the willingness to spend time and money in a restaurant. The researchers concluded that restaurants should have ambient noise levels of 50-55 dBA. That’s a much lower sound level than that in most restaurants.

The study is quite technical, and I have two quibbles with it.

First, it was done in a sound booth. That is ideal for research, but I would be interested to see the study replicated in a real or simulated restaurant environment.

Second, the average age of the subjects was 21, with a range from 18-28. I would like to see the study repeated, even with the same methods, in a population age 58-68, with an average age of 61, or even 68-78, with an average age of 71.

I suspect the findings would be similar, but the decibel numbers would be significantly lower.

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 is still a problem

Photo credit: Navjot Singh licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This recent article in the Chicago Tribune discusses the problem of restaurant noise, and what can be done to solve it.

Controlling restaurant noise can be a challenge. There has to be a balance between a reasonable amount of noise, and the ability of patrons to converse each other, but not so much quiet that everyone can hear what others are saying at the next table.

Some restaurant noise is unavoidable, e.g., the conversation of patrons, noise from the street, and the clatter of dishes at the tables, but kitchen noise can be isolated by an interior window if a visible kitchen is desired, and background music doesn’t have to be turned up to rock concert levels.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to restaurant noise. But acoustic science is up to the challenge and quieter restaurants are entirely feasible.

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.

Noisy restaurants are a problem in Australia, too

Photo credit: Tourism Victoria licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Good Food indicates that noisy restaurants are a problem in Australia, too. The writer, who uses hearing aids, reports that it’s hard to find a quiet restaurant there, and there are almost no quiet tables in any restaurants. That’s been my experience in Los Angeles.

An libertarian economist acquaintance views the world through his lens. He says that if people really wanted quiet restaurants, the market would respond and there would be quiet restaurants. I tell him that for some things the laws of economics don’t work. People wanted smoke-free restaurants, transportation, and workplaces, but it took laws and regulations to achieve that goal.

And the same is true for quiet restaurants.

The noise issue is very similar to the secondhand smoke issue. Environmental tobacco smoke (that’s the technical term for secondhand smoke) and noise are nuisances to many if not most people, but both are also health hazards.

Secondhand smoke causes heart attacks, lung disease, and cancer. It may be responsible for 30% of heart attacks. Unwanted noise causes hearing loss, increased blood pressure and pulse, and increased stress hormone levels. The CDC reported that many adults with noise-induced hearing loss had no occupational noise exposure whatsoever.

If enough of us complain to our elected officials–city council members, state legislators, and congressional representatives–maybe they will take action to make restaurants 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.

Din with your dinner?

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Meredith Goad, Portland Press-Herald, writes about restaurant noise and how diners are getting fed up with the din that invariably accompanies their dinner. Her piece is thorough and respectful, and her suggestions are thoughtful.  Yes, tell the manager that the loud music is the reason you will not be returning, and do download a sound meter app so you can measure decibel levels when you eat out.

That said, one doesn’t need a sound meter app to know if it’s too loud. If you have to strain to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise level is above 75 A-weighted decibels and your hearing is being damaged. And no meal is worth permanent hearing damage.

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.

 

Annoyed by restaurant playlists, a musician makes his own

Photo credit: Terje Sollie from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The New York Times writes about the seasonal playlists that musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto complied for the Kajitsu restaurant in New York City.  Sakamoto approached the chef with this list because he could not bear the music the restaurant played for its customers.

Not every restaurant can have a music pro compile its playlist, but at the least they can turn down the volume and let their customers enjoy their conversation.

And you don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud or not. If you can’t carry on a normal conversation without raising your voice to be heard, or you strain to hear your dining companions, the ambient noise level is above 75 A-weighted decibels.

Not by coincidence, that is also the auditory injury threshold, the sound level at which hearing damage begins.

Remember: if it 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.

Restaurant noise in the news

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I became a noise activist because I have tinnitus and hyperacusis and find loud restaurants unpleasant, so it was gratifying to see these two articles about restaurant noise. One is about restaurant noise in Austin, Texas, and the other more broadly reports about a study on restaurant noise sponsored by hearing aid manufacturer Oticon.

Both articles point out that the noise levels in many restaurants are loud enough to cause hearing loss, and that restaurant patrons have difficulty conversing due to the high ambient noise levels.

What the articles don’t mention is that restaurant noise is a major problem for older Americans, half of whom have hearing loss.

As long as the restaurants are busy, I don’t think they will voluntarily bother to make themselves quieter. As with smoke-free restaurants, this is something that will require enough voters complaining often enough to their elected officials to get regulations requiring quieter restaurants. Until that happens, speak up. If you go to a restaurant that is too loud, ask the manager or wait staff to lower it. If they won’t, leave.

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.

Is your noise making me fat? – Part II

Photo credit: Magnus D licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I used to joke that a great headline to get attention paid to noise would be the one at the top of the page, based on research showing that transportation noise increases stress hormones, in turn leading to obesity and diabetes. ( Here’s a link to one of the studies showing people exposed to transportation noise had larger waist circumferences.)

But this report shows that in addition to making it difficult for patrons to carry on conversations while dining, loud background music in restaurant increases the selection of higher calorie “comfort food” menu options.

It’s a rare restaurant these days where one can converse–if one can converse at all–without straining to speak or to be heard.

That means that the ambient noise is above 75 A-weighted decibels, which is also the auditory injury threshold, and that means that diners’ hearing is being damaged.

Remember: if it sounds too loud, it is too loud.

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.

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.