Oticon’s Restaurant Noise Dilemma Survey

by Debbie Clason for Healthy Hearing

July 12, 2018 - Chrome fixtures, hardwood floors, industrial lighting, high ceilings, mood music -- some restaurant interiors are as artistic as the plates of food they serve their customers. Yet the trend away from softscape materials such as carpeting, drapery and fabric-tufted cushions has some unintended consequences. Restaurants have become increasingly noisy, making it much more difficult for their patrons to carry on a conversation. It’s known as the restaurant dilemma -- and according to a 2018 survey by user-generated restaurant reviewer, Zagat, it’s now the number one complaint of diners.

How loud is the din in some of your favorite eateries? According to a survey conducted in April 2018 by Oticon, one of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers, some of the noise levels are equivalent to those of an alarm clock or heavy traffic.

The study measured noise levels at five top-rated restaurants in ten different markets every ten minutes during peak dining hours on Saturday evening (7:00-8:00 p.m.). Chicago’s Siena Tavern captured the highest noise level of 138.2 decibels (dB). Nashville’s The Distillery was second at 133.4 dB, while the noise in Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill measured 124.8. All three are levels higher than those you would experience standing near an ambulance siren (120 dB).

While average noise levels of the five markets measured 82.19 dB (Nashville), 81.92 dB (Portland), 80.44 dB (Washington D.C.), 76.51 dB (Seattle), and 75.60 dB (Austin), the highest noise levels in each of the 50 restaurants measured more than the 85 dB hearing healthcare professionals deem as safe exposure.

Why this is alarming

The ringing in your ears you experience after a night in a noisy restaurant or other similar gathering place as a patron may not be permanent, but it is an indication your ears were exposed to excessive noise levels.

If you happen to work in the service industry and are exposed regularly, take steps now to protect your hearing. Prolonged exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 dB can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), one of the most common -- and preventable -- forms of hearing loss among the 48 million Americans who report having trouble hearing. The loss can occur over a long period of time for those who work in a noisy environment or participate in a hobby such as hunting or wood working. Loud explosions or other one-time noise events, such as a balloon popping too close to your ear, can also cause NIHL.

Tips for having a pleasant dining experience

Great food and good conversation go hand in hand, so it can be annoying to dine in a place where it’s difficult to enjoy the company. Here are a few tips to help you combat the restaurant dilemma, regardless of your ability to hear:

If you haven’t had your hearing evaluated lately, schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional.

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