“I Can’t Even Hear Myself Drink!” How Volume – Not Just “Volume” – Matters

Audiologists consider a decibel level just over 80 damaging to our hearing. Sadly, it may come as little surprise to frequent diners in trendy restaurants that this is often just how loud dining out has become. While some restaurateurs might place a higher priority on restaurant décor than acoustics to draw in a young and hip crowd, it’s not only older customers who have increasingly had enough of not being able to hear each other during dinner conversation.

Many factors contribute to the volume; not only have sound-muffling carpeting (one inch or thicker) and tablecloths increasingly become less fashionable, but many restaurants now feature high ceilings, hardwood floors, open kitchens, and an abundance of windows. Adding music (especially music with lyrics or a heavy, frequent bass rhythm) not only means more noise; it also leads to customers yelling over the music just to be heard, further exacerbating the difficulties.

Hearing Patrons’ Concerns

Nowadays, many restaurant patrons are following the increasingly popular advice to look for photos of an establishment’s interior before trying it – and steering clear of places that show the telltale signs of being too noisy. Some bar and restaurant owners are trying a number of strategies aimed at making the drinking and dining experience more pleasant and less noisy for customers, in hopes of establishing a better reputation. Acoustical batting, panels, and ceiling treatments are among the techniques that have been tried, as well sound-absorbent walls. Restaurateurs who learn their lessons the hard way the first time around are often considering better initial designs before opening new locations, which means consulting soundproofing and noise control experts first.

Some may think of “quiet versus noise” as a personal preference that varies wildly based on personality, but acoustical engineer and audiologist Tom Thunder (yes, by all accounts his real name) says there’s an undeniable evolutionary reason that sounds like loud bass are so distressing to humans: they are similar to the kinds of noises signaling primal threats – like the roar of a lion, volcano or approaching storm. Let’s face it: patrons don’t want to feel like they or their steaks are about to be devoured by a lion, covered in molten lava, or rained on by a thunder storm – and more and more restaurateurs these days are listening to their patrons’ concerns about the noise factor (even if it’s through a cupped ear) – and taking heed.


Josh Saunders