‘The din at dinner’

Photo credit: Ibrahim Boran

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In a recent issue of the Boulder Weekly, restaurant critic John Lehndorff asks, “Are restaurants too loud?” Of course, you know the answer as well as I do. Yes, they are. Lehndorff describes his experience with sudden unilateral hearing loss last year, and how this has impacted him in restaurants. Interestingly, his epiphany about restaurant noise actually occurred before this, when he ordered steak in a too-noisy restaurant and was instead served skate, a seafood dish.

The restaurant was so noisy that the server couldn’t hear his order accurately. That’s not a surprise. At about 70 A-weighted decibels* (dBA) the ability of those with normal hearing to understand speech at normal volume starts to decline. At 75 dBA, it is close to zero. Reports show that noise levels in many restaurants are now much higher than that. 

Lehndorff notes that many people choose quieter restaurants, and will simply turn around and walk out of noisy restaurants. My wife and I have certainly done that. We have also had the server or host tell us that they can’t or won’t turn down the music because other patrons like it. We’ve also heard that the sound level is controlled by corporate and so they can’t change it.

I recently wrote about the efforts of Quiet Communities’ working group on restaurant noise to work with the hospitality industry to make restaurants quieter, or at least offer quiet days or quiet hours when amplified sound is reduced or turned off. This might allow those with auditory disabilities to enjoy a meal and converse with family or friends. 

A recent article in the Hear Here Alabama Project from the University of Alabama notes that an article in occupational health literature reported average restaurant noise levels to be 94 decibels. That’s enough noise exposure to cause hearing loss during a typical 90 minute restaurant meal. I’m not happy that diners in Boulder have the same restaurant noise problem that I’ve encountered here in Los Angeles, and in other cities when traveling, but I’m glad that restaurant noise continues to get attention. I and others continue to work on making restaurants quieter, so diners can enjoy both the meal and the conversation with family or friends.

A quieter world will be a better and healthier world for all.

*A-weighting adjusts unweighted sound measurements to approximate the frequencies heard in human speech. A-weighting is used in occupational noise exposure recommendations and standards because hearing loss that affects speech understanding is a compensable workplace injury from noise exposure.

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