Restaurant noise is still a problem in New York City

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

New York Post writer Steve Cuozzo recently reported on restaurant noise in New York City, claiming that restaurants are now “noisier than ever.” From published reports, we know restaurants in Manhattan are noisy, but I don’t know if they are noisier now than they were in the past. Perhaps data from the SoundPrint site can provide an answer.

Regardless, Cuozzo correctly writes that restaurant noise is a problem for diners who want to enjoy both the food and the conversation with their dining partners. It is also an auditory health problem for diners, those preparing the food and those serving it. He identifies several causes for noisy restaurants: the reality that for some diners, a noisy restaurant is an exciting one; the economic need in a high-rent city to squeeze as many tables as possible into the space; and the cost of soundproofing or using sound-absorbing tablecloths, which many restaurants can’t afford.

Designing an acoustically-pleasing restaurant is actually more difficult than one might imagine. There has to be enough noise to mask the conversations from nearby tables, but not so much that one can’t converse with a dining companion. Background music makes dining more pleasant, but it can’t interfere with conversation. Noise from the kitchen also needs to be isolated from the dining area.

But the simplest way of making restaurants quieter costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified sound. If enough people complain about restaurant noise — to both restaurateurs and local elected officials — perhaps something will be done to make restaurants quieter. In the meantime, don’t be shy about asking the waiter or manager to turn down the background music, or as my wife and I have done, just saying to the host, “this restaurant is too noisy. We can’t eat here,” and find somewhere else to dine.

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