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.