Restaurants are big business these days with chefs reaching celebrity status and the average American eating out at least five times per week! With a variety of cuisines, choices that can be personalized for specialized diets and dietary needs and budget-friendly options that seem more upscale than fast food, modern restaurants seem to be a perfect solution for our busy lifestyles. Unless you have hearing loss.
The restaurant dilemma
If you have hearing loss, you may be all too familiar with the restaurant dilemma. You want the freedom and flexibility to dine out, but with all the background noise of dishes clattering and other diners chatting, not to mention any music that may be playing, it often doesn’t seem worth the frustration.
You can opt for smaller and quieter restaurants to help minimize background noise. Stick with old favorites that you know have comfortable and hearing-friendly environments. You can even request tables off to the side or in a more insulated corner to better hear your dining companions. These are great tips but may not work for some of the newest restaurants popping up on the dining scene. In fact, a recent survey confirmed that modern restaurants are becoming less hearing-friendly than ever before.
Modern restaurant design defies hearing
Minimalistic, open, fresh, clean and natural are good words to describe the latest restaurant design trends. These concepts may be aesthetically pleasing with light and bright interiors and back to basics elements, but as the extras have been stripped away, the noise seems only to have amplified.
According to a recent survey conducted by hearing aid manufacturer Oticon, noise levels in restaurants are becoming almost dangerous in their decibel levels. The study measured noise levels at five top-rated restaurants in five top-rated restaurants in each of ten markets — Austin, Detroit, Chicago, Denver, Nashville, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis and Washington, DC. Using sound meters to collect data during the Saturday evening dinner rush, it was found that the average noise level was 80 decibels. It’s widely accepted that extended exposure to noise levels over 85 decibels can damage hearing, however many experts now stress that safe levels should be even lower.
During the course of the survey, Oticon noted that often design elements only increased the noise level in restaurants whether it was the televisions positioned around a more casual restaurant or the steel and granite of an upscale restaurant.
Design continues to evolve
Gone may be the days of noise softening drapes, tablecloths and cushioned chairs, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on dining out. People across the country are taking a stand against increasingly loud restaurants. As more restaurants consider the impact those potential diners have on their bottom line, and more health experts push for safer noise levels, both for customers and restaurant employees, we have no doubt there will be a shift back to more hearing-friendly dining.
In the meantime, many restaurant-lovers are taking matters into their own hands with resources and crowd-sourced apps that help you find hearing loss friendly restaurants. SoundPrint, a free app that helps users find restaurants and bars with comfortable noise levels, is just one of the options out there.
If you have difficulty hearing with background noise, talk to your hearing healthcare provider or call our office to discuss additional tips and options. Some of the newest hearing aids are making it easier than ever to hear clearly over the noise.