Tag Archive: the Lombard Effect

Restaurant noise in the time of COVID and beyond

Photo credit: AdamChandler86 licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I became a noise activist, trying to make the world a quieter place, because I want to be able to have a nice meal with my wife in a restaurant where I can enjoy both the food and the conversation.

Andy Newman in the Eastern County Gazette writes about restaurant noise and the additional considerations about restaurant noise in COVID-19 times. As he notes, most of us go to a restaurant not for the food but for the company. We want to converse with our dining companions. And we can’t do that easily when the restaurant is too noisy.

In COVID-19 times, it turns out that speaking loudly sheds more virus for greater distances than speaking softly. That’s why “background music” (in quotation marks because it’s often turned up to rock concert sound levels) is now banned in the UK.

When ambient noise is high, people talk more loudly to be able to be heard over the din. That was first described by French medical doctor and researcher Etienne Lombard in the early 1900s and is called, naturally enough, the Lombard Effect. Lombard understood that noise becomes a positive feedback loop, with everyone speaking more loudly as the ambient noise increases, until everyone is shouting at each other but no one can understand a word.

Newman asks that we still keep the noise levels down in restaurants, when things get back to normal and we’re not worried about spreading COVID-19.

I heartily agree.

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.