When dining is too darn loud

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Why the Health Department should rate restaurant sound levels


  • Empty = quiet at Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square. Photo: Rayitno, via flickr

When a couple with two children and demanding jobs want to spend an evening together, they often decide to have dinner in a nearby restaurant where they can sit, talk and eat. When young people want to get to get to know the person they have just met online, they seek out a neighborhood restaurant where they can converse and become better acquainted. Two senior friends who have not seen each other for a while seek a restaurant which will allow them to have a good meal while catching up with each other’s recent activities. Lone diners also have complained to me about loud restaurants. In other words, according to Zagat and Consumer Reports: restaurants are just “too darn loud.”

New York City has a noise code that attempts to lower the din of construction, air compressors and circulation devices and music from commercial establishments. But this code does not address loudness inside restaurants. The City Health Department does rate restaurants on environmental issues such as temperature and cleanliness but not on sound, even though sound is an environmental issue. I strongly urge that ratings of restaurants include an assessment of sound levels to which diners and employees are exposed

My long-term research and writings have focused on the adverse effects of loud sounds and noise on mental and physical health. Unquestionably, workers in loud, noisy restaurants, are in danger of suffering hearing impairment. Loud sounds and noise have also been linked to adverse mental and physical health effects; readers can go to www.growNYC.org/noise to learn more about the deleterious impacts of noise. The New York Times recently reported on several studies that link loud music with eating less healthy foods and softer music with healthier food choices. Further research on the relationship between sound levels and food choices are called for before we can affirmatively state that loud restaurants contribute to health issues like obesity. I will continue to follow the research in this area.

People who wish to eat their meals in restaurants that also permit them to converse with their fellow diners can do a Google search that directs them to sites listing quieter eateries. One site, Soundprint, provides information on restaurants and also lists an app which can, with some degree of accuracy, measure sound levels. You can then decide whether the restaurant you are dining in provides the “sound” atmosphere you are comfortable with. The goal of the Soundprint app is to satisfy people who are seeking dining experiences that focus both on food and conversation.

If it becomes clear that people desire to have some quiet while dining, then restaurant owners will seek out ways to acoustically treat their establishments in ways that will lower the din. They may also attempt to keep the music lower as well. Restaurant owners care about meeting the needs of their customers and if lower sound levels are called for, I believe they will consider the sounds of their restaurants for their workers and their customers. It is time for restaurant owners. workers, diners and city officials to join together to lower the decibel levels within restaurants.

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