Are Noisy Restaurants Harmful to Our Hearing Health?

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Many of the cafes and restaurants you visit every day are noisy places. With chatting customers, music in the background, and the sound of clattering plates coming from the kitchen, modern-day restaurants can be very loud. In a crowded restaurant it can be hard to hear what the person sitting across the table has said, and you find yourself shouting just to be heard. Are noisy restaurants so loud they’re harmful to our hearing health?

What Makes Restaurants So Noisy

Have you ever walked into a restaurant to meet your friends for dinner, and immediately wanted to walk back out? Very loud venues can be extremely irritating, or even cause pain and discomfort in your ears. Along with the chatter of restaurant patrons and the background music that often gets turned up far too loudly, restaurants can be very noisy due to the acoustics of the space. Designing a space to have good acoustics is time consuming and expensive, and building materials that absorb sound are more costly. For example, a spray-on foam solution and sound panels can be used to control sound, but these materials are pricy, and more difficult to install.

Another reason restaurants are so noisy is that decorations that could dampen sounds, such as carpets, wall tapestries, heavy drapes, or tablecloths, have all gone out of fashion in recent years in favor of more sleek designs. Industrial spaces with high ceilings and minimal decor may be trending, but they make the space even louder.

What Did You Say?

Noisy restaurants have become the norm, and you’ll probably spend all of dinner asking, “Can you repeat that?” or “What did you say?” as you struggle to follow the conversation. Cafes and restaurants have become noisier than ever, and part of this is caused by all the background music. Restaurant owners want their venue to feel energetic, and playing upbeat music makes the restaurant seem more vibrant and interesting. On the other hand, silent restaurants where you don’t have any privacy to speak openly can be even more of a turn off.

How Loud is a Typical Restaurant?

Excessive noise in restaurants in one of the most common complaints of diners everywhere, and people are more bothered by the noise levels than by poor service, packed restaurants, or even the quality of the food. Not only is the noise in a restaurant annoying, it may actually be a health hazard, and noisy restaurants are harmful to our hearing health. Both for staff and customers, spending an evening in a crowded restaurant can expose you to dangerously loud sounds that can harm your ears and damage your hearing. Many restaurants have noise levels that can top 85 decibels, and prolonged exposure to sounds of that volume can cause hearing loss.

Protecting Your Hearing

Noise induced hearing loss is caused by exposure to dangerously loud sounds. It’s a completely preventable type of hearing loss, but sadly it’s very common. If you’re on your way out for a dinner date with friends and worried about your hearing, take steps to protect your hearing before it’s too late. Prevent hearing loss by choosing to go to restaurants that respect hearing safety and have lower sound levels. Find a restaurant where you can comfortably hear the person sitting across the table from you, and avoid excessively loud restaurants altogether. You can look for restaurants that have carpets to absorb sound, decorate with tablecloths, or turn down the background music so you can enjoy a conversation.

If you struggle to find a quiet restaurant, you can download a decibel-reading app on your smartphone and see just how loud your favorite restaurant is. Any restaurants and cafes that are louder than 80 decibels can harm your hearing. One way to beat the noise is to go to the restaurant early. At 5pm even a very noisy restaurant will be mostly empty, and far quieter than later in the evening. You can also ask to sit at a quiet table, such as a table along a wall and far away from the kitchen. You can also ask that the music be turned down. As more people are made aware of the risk to their hearing health, restaurants will realize they need to start lowering the volume and protecting everyone’s ears.