The scene might be perfect. It’s the end of a long week. I’ve sat down at the bar with my wife and the drinks have been poured. We sip and take in the surroundings. Perfect mood lighting, carefully chosen paint colors to promote feelings of comfort and hunger, and I lean over to comment on the menu, “How do some fries sound? Or do you prefer something lighter like these lettuce wraps?” She stares at me blankly. I repeat myself.
“Why would they want to let us rap? You hate karaoke!” she replies.
“What are we doing here? I can’t hear a thing,” I say. She says something back, but it’s lost in the noise.
I recently had a hearing test done at UpState Hearing, so I know I have normal hearing. Restaurant noise can still be the only factor preventing me from having a good time at a place that otherwise is known for stellar service and excellent food. My wife and I do have days where we could simply observe and enjoy the scene but for the most part we prefer to enjoy conversation, not just with each other but with other patrons and staff.
There are two major problems with excessive restaurant noise. The first being that if it’s too loud to communicate, it’s too loud to enjoy the restaurant. The second problem is that the noise could potentially damage customers’ and employees’ hearing. If it’s an establishment regularly featuring live music, the risk is even greater. A personal pet peeve of mine is dice cups. The cups, games, and people aren’t themselves a problem until the player feels like he must slam the cup onto a dense bar surface with the force of a thousand war cannons.
Restaurant trends have shifted towards industrial long-lasting designs. This looks great for the bottom line but doesn’t bode well for diners who are sensitive to noise or suffer from hearing loss. Fortunately, most review sites like Yelp do have a spot to see how places classify themselves in terms of noise. Unfortunately, that information isn’t always controlled by customers. If you enter search terms like ‘quiet’ or ‘loud,’ you can see if those words are showing up in reviews. There are other things to look for or request when considering which restaurants to enjoy and what to do once you’ve selected a place.
- Look for materials that absorb sound instead of deflecting it. Carpet, drapes, and sound-tempering materials on the ceiling all suggest the restaurant has made an effort to keep the sound manageable.
- When making a reservation, request a booth or a table against a wall and as far away from the kitchen or front door as possible. Even if it’s loud, you’ll have an easier time focusing if noise isn’t coming from every direction.
- Go earlier when the place isn’t as crowded. This is especially true if the place serves alcohol since there are few moments in the history of humans where alcohol has made people quieter.
- If there’s music, kindly request that it’s turned down. Often the patrons are competing to be heard over the music, exponentially enhancing the noise problem. If the manager seems apprehensive about your claim that it’s noisy, decibel meters can be downloaded on smart phones. Demonstrate that the noise is well over the 85 decibels that many audiologists consider to be safe noise exposure.
- If it’s loud, you’ll definitely want to see and be seen. Make sure the lighting is decent so you can rely on good old-fashioned visual communication to supplement your hearing.
- Though it may seem counterproductive to wear your hearing aids in a noisy environment, it will benefit you to do so. Today’s hearing aid technology allows you to hear what you want while reducing some of the background noise. Take advantage of this amazing technology; it’s a luxury your grandparents didn’t have.
What are your favorite restaurants based on your hearing comfort? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and opinions.