If you’re older then 30, you may have noticed an alarming trend in restaurant noise in the last few decades. How many times have you been at a restaurant and struggled to hear your tablemates? Servers now hear “Can you repeat that?” almost as much as “Can I get another drink?”
High levels of restaurant noise are now all too commonplace and are the chief complaint of diners, according to a 2018 Zagat survey. There are several reasons for this rise in restaurant noise, and a few people are determined to fight the potentially-dangerous noise levels.
Why is restaurant noise increasing?
According to New York Magazine, New York celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and David Chang began blasting music from the kitchen into the dining rooms in the 90s, and the trend took off.
In addition to music, the actual construction of restaurants has changed. Sound muffling materials like tablecloths, carpets, and heavy drapes have been replaced by wood floors and bare tables and windows. Vox has been reporting in-depth on sound pollution this year. Reporter Julia Belluz explains that sound-controlling methods, such as sound panels or special foams, are pricey. Restaurant owners don’t want to break the bank on materials that aren’t going to add ambiance to their space.
Reclaimed spaces are also becoming very popular as dining venues. Former warehouses and other industrial locales are now trendy for restaurants. Brick and concrete walls may look great as a backdrop for an Instagram photo session, but they do nothing to absorb loud restaurant noise.
Restaurant noise: more than just an annoyance
Loud restaurants are a necessary evil for those of us who want the pleasure of dining out and trying new cuisines. Annoyance aside, the decibel levels of restaurant noise can be extremely dangerous to our hearing. Most hearing loss is due to long-term exposure to loud noise, and working or dining often in loud restaurants can certainly contribute to that.
Many New York restaurants often reach around 90 decibels of noise, which is considered dangerous. Sitting in a loud restaurant for two hours could be damaging your hearing without you even knowing it. The danger is highest for those who work in the restaurants and are exposed to loud noises for eight-plus hours a day.
Combating restaurant noise
Apart from wearing earplugs everywhere, what can individuals do to combat loud restaurant noise? The easiest way is to avoid such places. Several noise-conscious app developers have undertaken the task of helping diners determine which eateries are safe for their ears.
SoundPrint, developed by Gregory Scott (who has hearing loss himself), is available for iPhone users and is beneficial for those with hearing loss, other disabilities, or people who just simply hate loud restaurants. The app has a decibel meter which allows users to measure the noise wherever they are standing and submit it to the app database, which determines if the noise levels are dangerous. SoundPrint is currently available for New York City, San Francisco/Bay Area, Baltimore, Ann Arbor, New Orleans, and Las Vegas, with other cities coming soon.
The IHearU app described as “Yelp for noise at restaurants“ is available for users in the San Francisco/Bay Area. IHearU allows users to rate restaurants (and other spaces) and comment on their noise levels so that future patrons can be aware.
If you’re in one of these metro areas and find yourself bothered by ever-increasing restaurant noise, download one of these apps to help yourself out when picking a place to dine!
By: Elena McPhillips
Sources: Zagat, New York Magazine, Vox