Restaurant noise

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.

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.