Restaurant Noise: Dine or Dash?

Restaurant noise is causing patrons to choose between loud popular eateries and their hearing health. Eating establishments and local governments are working to reduce excessive restaurant noise and give patrons information that can help protect their hearing and increase their enjoyment.

The next time you order the chicken parmesan at your favorite eating establishment, you might consider requesting a side of earplugs.

Restaurants can be loud … and the needle on the decibel meter seems to move a bit higher every year. For the most part, restaurant patrons seem to tolerate the din of dining out as a normal part of a social experience. But as noise levels rise, more patrons are thinking twice about frequenting noisy eateries, citing frustration and physical discomfort. Researchers are going a step further, calling excessive restaurant noise a significant public health risk.

Why all the noise?

For some establishments, noise can be a function of design. High ceilings, uncarpeted floors and hard surfaces that are meant to create a trendy atmosphere often have the added side effect of amplifying conversations and music to near ear-piercing levels.

Noise can also be part of an unspoken business or marketing strategy. Loudness can equate to vibrancy and fun, and can give an establishment valuable “buzz” as THE place to socialize—and spend money.

How loud is too loud?

Research from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shows that long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause noise-induced hearing loss. According to the American Express Restaurant Briefing newsletter, restaurant reviewers have noted noise level averages of 80 decibels or higher in restaurants around the country. (A typical conversation averages about 60 decibels.) These noise levels can make conversations more difficult and put diners’ hearing at risk. In addition, having to speak over the dining room din could also put an unhealthy strain on customers’ voices.

Making sound choices

The restaurant industry and local governments are taking steps to reduce excessive restaurant noise and give patrons information to help them make better decisions that can protect their hearing and increase their enjoyment.

  • Nationally known restaurant reviewers like Zagat’s have started to include noise levels in their restaurants ratings. Noise ratings give patrons valuable information to help them determine the most hearing-friendly places to eat. The ratings can also help eateries with high noise levels to consider changes to enhance patron comfort.
  • Higher-end restaurants have reintroduced noise-blotting carpets and tablecloths, making quiet dining a luxury for those who can afford to pay. The hope is that this trend trickles down through the entire restaurant industry.

Learn about the noise laws near you

Our eCode360 clients can also search our library of more than 2,100 Codes for more examples of restaurant noise—or any legislative issue that comes up. Simply log in to eCode360 to access the Multicode Search feature. Then just type key words, such as “public noise ordinances” or “permissible sound levels,” and a list of the matching content will come up. Users can even filter results by the municipalities’ population, geography, government type, and class. Chances are, if a topic has come up in your municipality, your neighbors have experienced issues too.

Why restaurants became so loud—and how to fight back by Julia Belluz, Vox
Noisy Restaurants: How Much Noise is Too Much? By Jess Thomson, Seattle Magazine
Noisy Levels in Restaurants; Noisy, National Institutes of Health

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