The “Wall of Sound” – Combating Noise Levels in Restaurants

Diners in a busy restaurant

Loud restaurants affect those with hearing loss or sensitivity

Dining out is becoming more and more of a challenge for those with hearing sensitivity and hearing loss, according to surveys from Zagat and Consumer Reports, which note that noise levels in restaurants are the top complaint among diners. The "wall of sound" may even be dangerous at many eateries, according to Vox, which connected raucous atmospheres in restaurants back to trends set by celebrity chefs like Mario Batali, who insisted that it was good for business. This theory seems to be borne out by a study that showed diners in a loud atmosphere drank more beers and drank them more quickly than they would in a quiet atmosphere.

Noise levels at many restaurants, particularly in places like New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Chicago, are too loud to allow normal conversation, and can increase the risk of hearing loss. Many creep near to the official threshold for occupational noise hazard levels, which is 85 decibels, according to the CDC. The noise is often a combination of music and television noise, plus sounds from the kitchen, fans or air conditioners, and dining noises amplified by architecture that doesn't attempt to diffuse or minimize the effects.

Those who wish to dine out without putting their hearing at risk have many options, however.

  • SoundPrint created an iPhone app that measures sound levels in restaurants, and compiles results so diners can rate venues. It's considered to be "like Yelp for restaurant noise" and can help you find quiet restaurants to eat at in major cities.
  • Dine early, before peak hours. Extra noise will be at a minimum, and you can enjoy your meal in peace.
  • Consider dining at a slightly more upscale restaurant. Sports bars and family chain restaurants tend to be noisier, while a fine dining venue or five star hotel restaurant may have a more tranquil ambience.
  • Ask for noise to be reduced. This works best outside of peak dining hours as well - you may find managers are willing to turn down music and televisions when there are fewer people in the restaurant to object.
  • Request a table away from speakers and kitchen noise. Sitting in a secluded corner can help reduce the noise you are directly exposed to during your meal.

These tips can help you enjoy your dining experience without putting your hearing at risk, and can also be helpful if you already have hearing loss which makes it difficult to manage a restaurant's "wall of sound".

Dining out is becoming more and more of a challenge for those with hearing sensitivity and hearing loss, and noise levels in restaurants are the top complaint among diners.