Tag Archive: restaurant noise

Sarasota restaurants are getting louder, too

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Restaurant noise is a major problem for diners, now being the leading complaint in the latest Zagat restaurant survey. And this article from Sarasota Magazine says it’s a problem there, too.

The writer makes the common error citing the 85 decibel occupational noise exposure limit as the sound level at which auditory damage begins, noting restaurant noise levels of 92 decibels at one popular restaurant. Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise level to prevent hearing loss.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of exposure at 85 A-weighted decibels* to prevent hearing loss. And a typical restaurant meal lasts 90-120 minutes, depending on the speed of the service, the dining choices, and whether one lingers beforehand over drinks or afterwards for coffee and dessert. So all diners at the restaurant were at risk of hearing loss.

Is this a real problem? Yes! In 2017 the CDC reported that 24% of American adults had noise-induced hearing loss, most without significant occupational noise exposure.

Choosing a quieter restaurant, as an economist friend suggested, isn’t a realistic option. In most cities, there are few if any quiet restaurants, and a less noisy one is the only option if one wants to eat a restaurant meal.

It’s clear that restaurant noise is an example of market failure, and that regulator action is needed to protect diners’ auditory health.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

A tech solution to restaurant noise?

Photo credit: Quark Studio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This informative piece by writer Chris Berdik discusses the problem of restaurant noise and a new technological solution to it, the Constellation audio system. The Constellation system uses microphones, speakers, and computer processing to tune a restaurant’s sound environment to sound quieter. A lot of sound absorbing material must be installed to make the room acoustically “dead” before the Constellation system is installed.

As discussed in this article in Acoustics Today, getting the acoustics right in a restaurant can be a challenge. Diners want to be able to converse with those at their table, but want enough ambient noise to provide speech privacy for their conversations–and they don’t want to hear the conversations at neighboring tables. They want some sound, so the restaurant isn’t as quiet as a tomb, but not too much. And the acoustic characteristics of the restaurant change, both in terms of noise production and sound absorption, as the restaurant goes from half empty to chock-a-block full.

The developers of the Constellation system are trying to bring the price down. It’s currently $60-80,000, which is a lot of money. If restaurateurs want to make their restaurants more inviting for patrons, they will find the funds to make the space comfortable and inviting.

Of course, one of the first principles of acoustics is that the easiest way to make a space quieter is to reduce the noise at its source. And the cheapest and easiest way to reduce restaurant noise costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified background music, which often is turned up to rock concert levels!

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.

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.

Dining out is about more than the food on your plate

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Cape Gazette food writer Bob Yesbek discusses the many different aspects of restaurant noise. Yesbek notes that complaints about restaurant noise are among the most frequent he receives, and discusses some of the science behind complaints about restaurant noise. He also reports that some restaurants are concerned enough about their patrons’ dining comfort to try to deal with noise issues.

I believe that if enough people complain to enough restaurant owners and managers, it’s possible that restaurants will become quieter. Based on my experience with getting smoke-free restaurants, though, I think complaining to one’s local elected officials to get quiet restaurant ordinances passed will be quicker and more effective.

Because noise isn’t just a nuisance. Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

And restaurant noise is a disability rights issue for people with hearing loss and other auditory disorders.

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.

The quest for quiet dining

Photo credit: Jane023 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Brooke Randle in the Mountain Express, Asheville, North Carolina, discusses the problem of restaurant noise.

There’s nothing really new in Randle’s story, but any report that spreads the word about the problem of ambient noise in restaurants is important.

Because if a restaurant sounds too loud, it is too loud. And if enough people understand this, and complain to their elected representatives about restaurant noise–as we did about being forced to breathe secondhand smoke in restaurants in the 1980s and 1990s–eventually restaurants will be required to be quieter, just as they are now required to be smoke-free.

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.

The world’s most accessible museum?

Photo credit: David Samuel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times describes the new Wellcome Museum in London, which was specifically designed to be accessible to those with visual, auditory, and mobility issues. The piece also mentions an exhibit at the Tate Museum that was inaccessible to those in wheelchairs because it had two steps at the entrance, and of a public monument to a century-old labor dispute that was also not accessible to those who couldn’t climb steps. The main idea is that those in the UK who design museums, art exhibits, and public monuments are now aware that these places, designed for the public, should be accessible to as many people as possible.

The same principle of universal access should apply to restaurant design and other public spaces. Ambient noise in restaurants makes it difficult if not impossible for those with hearing loss to understand speech. And designing restaurants and public spaces with a goal toward reducing noise levels will make it easier for everyone to converse with their dining companions, not just the hard of hearing.

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? For the hearing impaired, that’s discrimination

Photo credit: Dmitry Zvolskiy from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Citing noise as discrimination, Joyce Cohen, writing for the Washington Post, goes after the restaurant industry. I’m grateful that Ms. Cohen relied on The Quiet Coalition Chair, Dr. Daniel Fink, in this terrific piece, and that she did her homework to get the facts straight.

I hope this kind of reporting will lead to changes in the restaurant industry, which, thanks to Yelp and Zagat and restaurant reviewers at newspapers like the Washington Post, are showing that noise is the number one complaint of restaurant goers. Let’s hope that restaurant owners are finally waking up to the fact that too much noise is actually bad for business.

And congratulations to the Washington Post for taking on this industry and it’s egregious practices! This article has certainly opened up the conversation about restaurant noise and disability.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Restaurant noise a problem in Maine

Photo credit: Paul VanDerWerf licensed under CC BY2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Nancy Harmon Jenkins in the Portland Press Herald discusses restaurant noise in Maine, where enjoyment of fresh, locally caught or harvested food is undercut by too noisy restaurants.

When will restaurateurs get the message: turn down the volume of amplified sound? If restaurant patrons wanted to attend a rock concert, we would. But what we actually want to do is enjoy a meal and conversation with our dining companions.

Thanks to Lisa Beach for bringing this article to our attention.

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.

Another report about restaurant noise

Photo credit: Brett Sayles from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in USA Today, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the U.S. with global reach, again highlights the problem of restaurant noise. Restaurant noise is now the leading complaint of restaurant patrons in Zagat surveys, this year edging out the usual leading complaints of poor service and high prices. The article also cites the recent Washington Post article about the disability rights aspects of restaurant noise, in which I am extensively quoted.

Restaurant noise isn’t just a discomfort issue or a disability rights issue. It’s a health and public health issue.

In many restaurants and bars, noise levels exceed 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA), and according to the World Health Organization, only one hour exposure at 85 dBA can cause hearing loss.

I wear inconspicuous plastic ear plugs in noisy restaurants to protect my hearing, and so should you. And you don’t need a sound meter app on your smart phone to know if the ambient noise is too high: If you have to strain to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, and your hearing is at risk.

Because if something 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.