A certain segment of the population is attracted to the hustle and bustle of vibrant dining experiences like that of beer commercials. However, an ever growing and equally important segment of the population seeks quieter places to dine and is voicing its concern over the intolerable noise levels at eating establishments. They prefer more subdued and quieter dining atmospheres.
Hearing a conversation in a restaurant is difficult at the best of times, especially for those with hearing loss. Approximately fifteen per cent of adults have some degree of hearing loss, and at age 70 that percentage doubles. This demographic is therefore very important to restauranteurs.
Studies find this group uses food quality, cost, and noise levels when selecting a restaurant. In fact, a study by Zagat found this demographic cites noise levels as one of the most important factors when selecting a restaurant.
There are also cellphone apps, such as IHEARu and Soundprint that helps patrons locate quieter, more hearing friendly restaurants. I found two webpages that report on quiet dining such as Chowhound and the Anti-Noise-Pollution-League. There are also sound level apps that one can use to estimate restaurant decibel levels, such as: dB soundmeter and Decibel X. The accuracy and use of sound level measuring apps will be discussed in an upcoming column.
Restaurants are wising up to the importance of hearing friendly environments and are enlisting the services of architectural firms that use noise reducing building materials. These materials are costly, and retrofitting is even more expensive and therein lies the challenge.
There are some strategies that you can use to hear better in restaurants. Sit as far away from the kitchen as possible. Ask the staff to turn the music down. Sit in a location that has good lighting so that you can lip-read and maximize visual cues. Sit in a booth if you can. Sit with your back to the wall. If you are at a large table, then sit in the middle closest to people you want to
hear, not at either ends of the table. Choose less busy times if you have the option, the restaurant can advise you of its quietest hearing friendly times.
For those that wear hearing aids, restaurant noise presents an additional challenge. Hearing aid wearers know first hand that hearing aids have limitations in noisy places. However, hearing aid noise programs do help by focusing hearing aid microphones toward the front, rather than behind or to the sides.
There are also hearing aid assistive listening technologies such as remote microphones and FM systems that improve hearing in noisy places by increasing the signal-to-noise ratio. The latest premium hearing aids perform better in noise than entry level hearing aids. Talk to an audiologist if you would like information about these technologies.
With all that said, I am interested in hearing about your dining experiences, both good and bad, as well as the strategies and technologies you use to hear better in noisy places. Please email me at email@example.com and I will share your stories. Happy dining!