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These days, restaurants are the epitome of slick modern design. With high ceilings, industrial lighting, and classy hardwood floors, contemporary restaurants barely resemble the carpeted, plush restaurants of days past.

While this trend might seem like an aesthetic move more than anything else, this transition toward stylish modern looks has had some serious unintended consequences. Who is most affected by these changes, you ask? The answer: your hearing.

All of these aesthetic changes away from the soft and cushy restaurant of previous generations to the industrial-chic lounge that’s becoming increasingly popular in cities around the world has inadvertently changed restaurant’s acoustic properties for the worse.

Nowadays, restaurants are becoming increasingly noisy, so much so that it’s becoming difficult to carry on a conversation over a meal. According to restaurant reviewer Zagat, this issue, known as the restaurant dilemma, is a top complaint amongst restaurant-goers.

How Loud is Your Favorite Restaurant?

In an attempt to quantify and study the noise levels in modern restaurants, Oticon, one of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers, conducted a survey in five top-rated restaurants in ten different cities. The researchers measured the noise levels in these restaurants every ten minutes during peak dining hours on Saturday evenings. The results are astounding.

Chicago’s popular Siena Tavern took home the gold in this study, with the highest recorded noise level of 138.2 dB while Nashville’s The Distillery received silver for a recorded 133.4 dB and Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill took third place with 124.8 dB. Based on this study’s results, all three of these restaurants have a noise level higher than what you would experience if you stood next to an ambulance siren, which clocks in at a cool 120 dB.

That being said, average noise levels in five of the researched cities were much lower at 82.19 dB (Nashville), 81.92 dB (Portland), 80.44 dB (Washington, D.C.), 76.51 dB (Seattle), and 75.60 dB (Austin). While these averages are slightly below the 85 dB threshold that hearing healthcare professionals deem to be safe for regular exposure, the highest noise levels in every restaurant regularly exceeded this mark.

These results should be alarming and concerning for anyone who spends time in restaurants. Instead of coming home relaxed after a nice dinner out, these days, people often leave their meals with ringing in their ears or other signs of exposure to excessive noise levels.

Regular or prolonged exposure to excessive noise can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) – a common, yet preventable form of hearing loss.

Hearing Health in a Noisy Restaurant

Although modern restaurants might be noisy locales, you can still have a nice dining experience without sacrificing your hearing health. Here are a few tips:

  • Seek out quiet restaurants. Not all restaurants are created equal and there are certainly dining options out there that are easier on the ears. Look for restaurants that have lower ceilings, carpeting, or window treatments. Online review sites can be helpful if you read through the comments and look for information on restaurant noise levels.
  • Eat early in the evening or opt for a late dinner. If you have your heart set on a particular restaurant that’s a bit noisy, try to eat either earlier or later to skip the busiest part of the night during the dinner rush.
  • Ask for a table away from the open bar, the kitchen, or any live entertainment. Corner tables and partitions can be nice for deflecting background noise.
  • If you have hearing aids, wear them. It might seem counterintuitive, but wearing your hearing aids in a noisy environment can help you pick out multiple speakers in a noisy room.

If you’re concerned about your hearing health, don’t hesitate to contact a hearing healthcare professional to discuss what might be best for your needs. Even in today’s noisy restaurants, we can still enjoy a dinner out on the town – we just have to take a few more precautions to protect our hearing.

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