Tag Archive: restaurant noise

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

The NIH recognizes noisy restaurants are a problem

Photo credit: Alan Light licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

With this web content posted last year as part of its Dangerous Decibels program, the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health, finally recognizes that restaurant noise is a problem. Unfortunately, NIDCD persists in stating that

Research shows that long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause noise-induced hearing loss. Signs of having been exposed to too much noise include not hearing clearly or having ringing in your ears after leaving a noisy environment.

We disagree. By the time one can’t hear clearly or experiences tinnitus, it’s too late–permanent hearing damage has occurred. The damage occurs because 85 decibels is not a safe noise level for the public. As I wrote in the American Journal of Public Health, the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 decibels time-weighted average for a 24-hour period. The 85 decibel standard NIDCD relies on is an occupational noise exposure level, and that standard fails to prevent hearing loss in all exposed workers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health agrees, and the auditory injury threshold, discussed by Flamme, et al., is only 75-78 A-weighted decibels (dBA).

A simple rule to protect hearing is “if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.” If you can’t carry on a normal conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise level is above 75 dBA (see figure D-1, “Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety”) and auditory damage is occurring. And, unfortunately, many if not most restaurants are noisier than 75 dBA.

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 redux

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

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Both my parents served in the U.S. Army in World War II, met while in the service, and married shortly after the war ended. I was born a few years later. So I am a “baby boomer,” but I’m not a regular reader of BOOMER Magazine. That said, this article in BOOMER Magazine about noisy restaurants clearly defines the issue, even as it fails to deliver the right solutions.

The article talks about the heartbeat of a restaurant, i.e., the unique ambience. Unfortunately, in many restaurants that heartbeat is far too loud. The problem is that many baby boomers have significant (25-40 decibel) hearing loss, which makes it impossible to understand speech in a noisy environment. And in many cases, noise levels in restaurants and bars are loud enough to cause further hearing loss, discomfort, and even pain.

Many of us boomers are in our mid to late 60s. We may think of ourselves as “forever young,” but the reality is that (with graying and/or thinning hair, thickening middles, and bifocals) we are not the “demographic” that marketers and retailers want, even if many of us have a lot more money and a lot more time in which to spend it that younger people do. For many baby boomers our mortgages are paid off, the kids are done with college, and we’ve funded our retirements. And members of this demographic are looking for restaurants in which we can enjoy a meal AND a conversation with family and friends. But as long as the restaurants are busy–and they sure were in west Los Angeles last night–the restaurateurs and barkeeps have no reason to make things quieter.

This December I will be speaking on the disability rights aspects of ambient noise at the meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in New Orleans. It’s my position that the answer to excessive restaurant noise isn’t eating earlier, or choosing a quieter restaurant (a near impossibility in many cities, including mine), or grinning and bearing it, as BOOMER Magazine suggests, it’s making restaurants quieter. In many cases, this doesn’t cost anything: just turn down–or turn off–the music!

I’m a doctor with tinnitus and hyperacusis, not a lawyer. But it seems to me that those of us with partial hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of having a disability. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” If I’m correct, ADA regulations should require “places of public accommodation”–including restaurants and bars–to be quiet enough to allow those with auditory disorders to converse while enjoying a meal or a drink. That is, people with partial hearing loss, tinnitus, and/or hyperacusis should be protected under the ADA.

For those concerned that indoor quiet laws will hurt business, I turn to the example of no-smoking laws that were imposed on restaurants and bars. Restaurant proprietors and especially bar owners foresaw calamity, but a multitude of studies showed no impact on revenues. My guess is that if some smokers chose not to go to restaurants or bars, they were replaced by those who didn’t want a side order of secondhand smoke with their steak frites. Or the smokers learned to smoke before or after dinner, or to step outside if they wanted to smoke. And that’s what I predict will happen when indoor quiet laws are passed: diners will still go to restaurants, maybe even more of them.

Until reason prevails and restaurants are required to meet reasonable decibel limits, we must ask restaurant owners and managers to turn down the volume.  And if they want our business, they will do it. But what if our requests fall on deaf ears? The next step may be pursuing legal remedies under the ADA to require restaurants to provide a soundscape that protects everyone’s ears.

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 eating out bad for your ears?

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We all know from personal experience that restaurants are too loud. In this piece in The Washington Post, Gail Richard, the president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, writes that noise levels in restaurants are loud enough to damage one’s hearing. Specifically, Richard states that “[c]onsistently listening to noise levels above 70 decibels can cause hearing loss over time,” noting that “it is not unusual for restaurant reviewers who regularly list restaurant noise in their reviews to find levels above 70 and even 80 decibels.”

The Quiet Coalition has covered a number of reports about restaurant noise so this information is nothing new, but this opinion piece is a nice summary.

The only thing I disagree with is Richard’s suggestion that restaurants could provide quiet zones for customers with hearing loss or those who prefer less noisy spaces. The idea of “separate but equal” spaces embodied in quiet zones, quiet rooms, or even a request for a quiet table runs counter to the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that places of public accommodation offer those with disabilities full and equal enjoyment. Someone with complete hearing loss in one ear would appear to meet the ADA definition of having a disability.

Simply put, we shouldn’t have to ask for a quiet table or a quiet room. All restaurants should be quiet enough to allow all customers to converse.

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.