Tag Archive: Pete Wells

Dining without the din

Photo credit: Julia Kuzenkov from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

After The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells wrote in favor of restaurant noise on January 22, at least in part a response to a blog post I had sent him a month earlier that he referred to in his fourth paragraph, I heard from a number of my noise contacts around the country.

Mr. Wells didn’t mention my name, but the language he quoted was so familiar to those who know my thoughts about restaurant noise that most of the emails asked, “Dan, was that you?”

Of course it was.

One of my noise contacts suggested writing a letter to the editor. I hadn’t done that because in these days of impeachment trials and global warming and coronavirus, why would a newspaper print a letter about restaurant noise?

But with his encouragement, I did.

My letter didn’t get printed, but this one from former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel did.

It turns out that Mr. Frankel was the one who suggested that food critics write about restaurant noise many years ago.

And Mr. Frankel said exactly what I wanted to say, only so much better!

The headline the Times provided for the letter, “Dining Without the Din,” is a phrase that I will use in the future.

In four words, it captures exactly what I, and most of those commenting on Mr. Wells’ column, want.

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 restaurant noise a problem?

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

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is restaurant noise a problem? I think so, and I’m not the only one who does. According to the Zagat surveys over the last several years, noise is the first or second most common complaint of restaurant patrons. Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema also thinks restaurant noise is a problem, and give decibel readings and comments about noise in his reviews.

But New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, responding to a blog post that I had sent him doesn’t think so.

I may be making a mistake in writing this–there’s an old adage that one shouldn’t argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton–but I feel compelled to reply.

Wells’ argument, in a nutshell, is that he really doesn’t think restaurant noise is a problem and generally likes louder restaurants. Wells says that he doesn’t have trouble conversing in a noisy restaurant, and thinks restaurant noise is a sign of people having a good time.  Wells opines that people prefer livelier restaurants and are uncomfortable with silence. In the end, he thinks the problem may be that restaurants may be the only place in modern life where we can’t control the noise, and that bothers people. But he believes restaurant noise is a feature, not a bug, and restaurant noise is the happy sound of people having a good time sharing a meal with each other.

I disagree, of course. I live in Los Angeles, not New York, so it’s possible that there are differences between the coasts, but I don’t think so. I think restaurant noise is a problem and prefer quieter restaurants where I can talk with my dining companions. Unfortunately, they are almost impossible to find. I have tinnitus and hyperacusis, so loud restaurants are downright painful for me. Restaurants are noisy by design, whether the culprit is an open kitchens, hard surfaces, or tables crowded together in a low-ceilinged room, often accompanied by background music turned up to rock concert levels. Yes, noise can create a sense of action or excitement. and hospitality literature shows that restaurant noise increases food and drink sales and turnover. But Zagat surveys show that many diners find restaurant noise to be a problem. I think many patrons would prefer quieter restaurants. And no, it’s not a control issue, it’s a comfort issue. We don’t want silence, we want enough quiet so we can enjoy the food and the conversation without damaging our hearing.

I usually don’t read the online comments to newspaper articles, but a few of my noise contacts suggested that I look at the comments to Wells’ piece. I’m glad I did. On Thursday morning there were over 876 comments and the overwhelming percentage–approximately 95%–agreeed with me that restaurant noise is a problem. Several commenters raised the same concerns.  Namely, that restaurant noise is a problem for those with hearing loss, especially older people, whether they wear hearing aids or not, restaurants don’t have to be as noisy as they are, European restaurants are much quieter, and going to a restaurant for a meal is about the food and conversation. Others stated that they walk out of noisy restaurants or won’t return to them, and many were aware that noise is used deliberately to reduce time spent at the table and to increase alcohol sales.

Mr. Wells column is titled “Is Restaurant Noise A Crime? Our Critic Mounts a Ringing Defense.” No, restaurant noise is not a crime, but restaurant noise is a major disability rights issue for those with hearing loss and other auditory and non-auditory disorders. If enough of us would complain to elected officials about restaurant noise and quiet restaurant laws are passed–or if a sympathetic plaintiff finds a good disability rights lawyer–restaurant noise could soon be a violation of the law. And for the sake of everyone’s dining comfort and auditory health, I hope that day is very soon.

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.