The 24th April is the 24th annual International Noise Awareness Day. The Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) founded this event to encourage us all to do something about bothersome noise in our daily lives.
We can encounter dangerous levels of noise in many parts of day to day life, from commuter traffic to the rumbling of the subway. Going out to eat, however, is often one place where we don’t think about the noise volume. To celebrate this year’s International Noise Awareness Day we’re asking: Are restaurants getting too loud?
Loud noise can affect our health in many ways. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a major concern, but recent studies have also been investigating links to depression, cognitive decline, heart disease and much more.
In brief, the louder the noise, the shorter period of time it’s safe to be exposed to it. Guidelines from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health state a maximum of 8 hours at 85 dB. They also warn that hearing can be damaged by exposure to 110 dB after only 1 minute and 29 seconds.
Tom Sietsema, a Washington Post Magazine food critic, began recording the noise volumes in restaurants alongside his impressions of the food and menu. By using a decibel meter, he ranked restaurants from those that allow comfortable conversation, to those that were extremely loud.
In his Spring Dining Guide, Sietsema used a decibel meter to rank the noise volumes alongside the food in the restaurants. Alarmingly, in the 30 restaurants reviewed, only 5 measured as 70 decibels or below, which Sietsema noted as volumes that allowed for comfortable conversation. 18 measured between 71 – 80 decibels, requiring “raised voices”. 7 measured over 80 decibels, which Sietsema marked as “extremely loud”.
The way modern restaurants are designed as minimalist spaces offer little to no sound absorption. The walls are exposed brick, the tables are undressed, materials used can be cold and hard such as marble or metals. The noisy kitchens are often openview, flat screen televisions adorn the walls and high-spec music systems are seamlessly fitted into the ceilings. Let’s not forget that more the restaurant is incentivized to fill as many tables and chairs as possible. Combined, these can all lead to one noisy environment!
If you already have a hearing loss, loud restaurant environments can further complicate conversation. But there are things that you can do to make the most of your dining experience.
Sound print is a new app that is building a database of quiet restaurants. Using this database you can look for a restaurant that fits your needs. You can also add in your own recommendations for quiet restaurants, and help others find appropriate places to dine.
To avoid the crowds, try to choose a quieter time or day of the week to dine. When you book, don’t be afraid to ask for a quiet table. You may consider a table situated away from the kitchen, or perhaps ask for a booth that may help reduce the background noise. Finally, set your hearing aid accordingly to manage the background noise.
Noise can permeate into most areas of our lives, but noise induced hearing loss is avoidable. We highly recommend regular hearing checks to screen for any changes. If you have any concerns or would like to arrange a hearing assessment, call the team at Clear Wave Hearing Center on 507-208-7002 or click here to book.