Dennis Hampton, Ph.D
280 Mamaroneck Ave.
White Plains, New York 10605
(914) 761-4455

Just How Noisy Are Those Restaurants?
Dennis Hampton, Ph.D.

One of the most common hearing problems we hear about is the difficulty of hearing in noisy restaurants. It seems that along with movies, television shows and the world in general, restaurants have become noisier than ever. Loud background music, the clatter of silverware and dishes, the voices of other diners raising their voices to be heard-all can make the restaurant setting a challenging and frustrating place to carry on a conversation.

People with normal hearing also complain about noisy restaurants. According to Zagat Surveys, who reviewed more than 15,000 restaurants across the nation, noise is the second most common complaint of restaurant-goers (second only to poor service).

Two audiology researchers from the University of California in San Francisco decided to measure the noise levels in five different restaurants. The restaurants ranged from bar/restaurants to family restaurants to elegant, upscale settings. Noise levels were measured and averaged over one-hour time periods between 6 and 10 p.m.

The researchers found that average noise levels ranged between 50 and 90 decibels on the "A" scale (dBA) (normal conversation is about 45 to 50 decibels). More importantly, the highest noise levels averaged about 110 dBA, while some peak noise levels actually reached more than 140 dBA-well beyond the tolerance level of any listener.

The family restaurants were significantly quieter than the bar/restaurant settings. The "elegant, upscale" restaurant was the quietest setting by far-about 20 decibels quieter than the other restaurants. Apparently, patrons of the more elegant and more expensive restaurants receive not only better food and service for their dining dollar, they also get a better listening environment.

The researchers concluded that the noise levels of all but the "elegant restaurant" are loud enough to interfere with normal conversation, whether the individuals have a hearing loss or not. They recommended that all restaurant reviewers do what a few reviewers have already done--adopt a noise rating system as a regular part of their reviews. That would allow all of us-whether we have a hearing loss or not-to choose a restaurant we can go to and enjoy rather than merely tolerate.