Washington Post restaurant critic adds decibel levels to reviews

Photo credit: Rachel Claire

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Washington Post’s restaurant critic, Tom Sietsema, has added decibel measurements to his restaurant reviews. This is the first time I have seen an actual sound pressure level measurement in a restaurant review since becoming a noise activist in 2014.

The acoustics of restaurant sound are complicated. Restaurants need to have enough ambient sound to mask conversations at nearby tables, but not so much as to interfere with conversation at those tables. And there’s an old saying in the restaurant business–“A quiet restaurant is a dead restaurant”–so the restaurant shouldn’t be as quiet as a tomb.

Difficulty following one conversation among many in a noisy environment, called “the speech-in-noise problem,” is common in older people. I haven’t found a precise number yet, but different peer-reviewed papers put the prevalence between 20-40% of middle-aged to older adults. High ambient noise levels are certainly a disability rights issue for those with auditory disorders, but also interfere with conversations among those with normal hearing, including parents trying to hear a child speak.  SoundPrint crowd-sources restaurant noise measurements and makes these available, too, but it’s nice to have the decibel level right in the restaurant review.

I was notified of this review by a noise colleague who prefers to remain anonymous, but I am thanking her anyway. I don’t read the Washington Post, and would have missed this if she hadn’t sent it. If you find something you think might be blog-worthy, please let me know at [email protected].

And as I’ve said to many of my noise colleagues, please don’t worry about someone else having sent me the same item. I would always rather get two or more notices of something important about noise or sound or auditory disorders than miss it entirely.

Because we’re trying to spread the word: A quieter world will be a better and healthier place for all.

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