Tag Archive: restaurant noise

Restaurant noise could cost customers

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

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Mary Bilyeu, The Toledo Blade, shows that noisy restaurants aren’t just a problem in coastal cities like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.  The reporter also notes that many people avoid noisy restaurants, and, as the headline intimates, this might be costing the restaurants customers.

The only problem is that as long as most restaurants are busy enough, restaurateurs have no incentive to make them quieter. This is true even when most people want quieter restaurants, which makes this a clear-cut case of market failure crying out for regulatory intervention.

The article also mentions someone’s older parents who use hearing aids and couldn’t converse in a noisy restaurant. I believe that restaurant noise is a disability rights issue and that needs regulatory intervention, too.

If enough people complain about restaurant noise to enough elected officials, often enough and again and again, eventually restaurants will become 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.

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.

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.

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.