Think back to the last time you ate out at a restaurant. How were the noise levels? If you found it difficult to hear your dining companion while eating out, you’re not alone. In fact, many restaurant critics and food magazines have reported on the phenomenon of rising noise levels in restaurants in the past decade.
New York Magazine reported, “Most restaurant scholars will tell you that the Great Noise Boom began in the late nineties, when Mario Batali had the genius idea of taking the kind of music he and his kitchen-slave compatriots listened to while rolling their pastas and stirring their offal-rich ragus and blasting it over the heads of the startled patrons in the staid dining room at Babbo…Sound systems were cranked up and suddenly noise became the hallmark of a successful New York restaurant.”
It's not just New York. Even here in Hawaii, you may notice a tend toward this louder ambiance in restaurants. While this rush of energy and festivity may create a lively atmosphere, it certainly is not conducive for the art of conversation at dinner.
Factors Contributing to Noise Levels in Restaurants
Gone are the days of restaurants with complete linens, cushions, and carpeting. In older restaurants, you may notice that these soft fabrics absorb sounds you commonly find in a restaurant – the clinking of glass, the scaping of a knife against china, and other diners’ voices. In contemporary restaurant design, you may have noticed a trend toward an industrial-chic appearance and open kitchen design – which contributes to higher noise levels in restaurants.
With a new culture surrounding celebrity chefs, open kitchen plans are popular. Diners can sit at a counter and watch chefs create their meals. Similarly, restaurant design has become sparer, with modern furniture and table-top elements. Jeremy Luscombe, an acoustic consultant, has said that “industrial design with concrete finishes and hard surfaces mean noise is propelled around the room.”
A Few Tips for Dining with Hearing Loss
If you experience hearing loss, then you know what a challenge it is to go out and socialize in noisy environments. Contemporary restaurant design certainly doesn’t help!
However, the use of hearing aids greatly improves your listening ability in noisy places. Most advanced hearing aids offer excellent features to elucidate speech and eliminate background noise. This helps you to focus on your dining companions rather than trying to hear above the din.
Even so, it wouldn’t hurt if there were more accommodations to make your dining experience more enjoyable. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your dining experience with hearing loss.
Suggest a Quieter Restaurant
As you’re making plans for dinner, tell your dining companions that it would help your conversation if you chose a quieter restaurant. You may even want to choose a time when restaurants are less busy – which means less people talking all at once in the same space.
Consider a restaurant that is smaller and well-lit. Louder spaces could create difficult acoustics. A well-lit space means you have a better view of your companions, which means you can read their lips and expressions. These accommodations help with conversation.
Choose a Booth Rather Than a Table
Booths are more conducive to conversation for people with hearing loss. The high backs and softer textures of booths soften the sounds around you and create a sort of enclave to accommodate easier listening. Booths also block out a lot of background noise in the restaurant.
Ask for a Seat on the Perimeter of the Room
When making a reservation, ask for a seat along the perimeter of the restaurant. When you are being seated, tell your companions it would help if you had a seat with a wall behind you. Seats along the perimeter of the restaurant tend to be quieter than the center of a space.
Additionally, it would help to sit with the wall behind you; if you sit with your back to other diners in the restaurant, it may be difficult to hear above their voices.
Also, ask to sit away from the kitchen or bathroom. These places tend to be busier, with people coming in and out frequently, which could interfere with your ability to hear.
For more information on hearing loss and hearing aids, contact us at Family Hearing Aid Center of Hawaii.