New York’s crowded Carnegie Deli/Wikimedia Commons

Dining out can make you deaf.

Yes, that’s a cheap play on that old joke one of your friends whispered when you were a teenager. And don’t worry, personal behaviors won’t make you deaf.

But there is evidence some restaurants and bars can damage your hearing.

In an abstract presented to the Acoustical Society of America’s annual meeting last week, Greg Farber, the creator of a smartphone, noise-monitoring app called SoundPrint, said 2,250 bars and restaurants in New York City had been surveyed and many were judged to be too noisy.

“The  average sound level was 78 dBA in restaurants and 81 dBA in bars,” he reported.

Normal conservation measures 60 decibels (dBA). Freeway traffic measures 70. A whistling kettle measures 80.

“…Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss,” according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. “The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) to happen.”

On its restaurant page, the Institute warns, that “if you do decide to try a potentially loud restaurant, bring along some earplugs or earmuffs as a way to protect your hearing while enjoying good food.”‘

The same warning might apply to more than a few Alaska drinking establishments where the ambient noise is enough to make it hard to think, let alone hear conversation.

Farber is not the first to report high noise levels in bars and restaurants.

Universal problem

Five years ago the Los Angeles Times took a sound meter on “visits to a dozen restaurants and bars across Los Angeles to find out (how noisy). In many cases, we’re all dining with the noise equivalent of a lawn mower running next to us: That’s 90 decibels,” the newspaper reported.

The Institute on Deafness, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services, hosts a “Noise Planet” website. The restaurant page jokes, “do you want earplugs with that burger?”

The site warns against restaurants with high ceilings, lots of hard surfaces and tables packed close together.

“Hard surfaces and open spaces make sounds bounce and echo, so the sounds seem even louder,” the website says. “And when you raise your voice, other people have to talk louder to be heard, too.”

Farber has a better idea than scouting for restaurants with low ceilings and carpet. Already hard of hearing, which makes it more difficult than normal to make out conversations in noisy bars and restaurants, he designed SoundPrint out of curiosity as to just how noisy those businesses.

He is now trying to market the app as the “Yelp for Noise.”

“Find restaurants and bars by how quiet or noisy they are…and measure them too,” the SoundPrint Facebook page says.  The SoundPrint website, which appears to be still under construction, promises a “Quiet Spots List” for New York City and others communities, but so far the list is limited to New York.

SoundPrint did reveal that one of the things it has so far found is that restaurants with American cuisine tend to be the noisiest.

“On the opposite end of the spectrum, Indian and Chinese restaurants are much quieter, as their average sound levels registered as moderate, which means they are more likely to be safe for hearing and conducive for conversation,” the SoundPrint blog says.

“…If you want to increase your chances of hearing your companions at dinner, opt for Indian or Chinese rather than American restaurants!”










4 replies »

  1. That’s louder than I would have guessed. Thought I’d come up with a scene for my next (first) crime novel but I’d better keep working. Even a suppressed .22 comes in at 116 dB, a suppressed 9mm, 125db. Maybe have the victim be operating a jackhammer, not dining out. 😉

    I know my tolerance for loud venues, as so many other things, has dropped since my youth.

  2. Having an obnoxiously loud dining environment is by design. It keeps the tables moving as diners do not linger. Second, there is a belief that noise creates a hip “buzz” fast-moving big-city environment. Take Urban Greens on 3rd and G: Cavernous open ceiling, kitchen open to the dining area, hard surfaces everywhere, music blaring, patrons and kitchen staff yelling to each other in order to be heard (which causes an escalating cacophony). I was there at noon – likely their busiest time. Worst I ever heard. A similar problem is trying to play live music when everyone is yapping furiously at the bar.

  3. Glad to have a pet peeve of mine get attention. I consider dining at a nice restaurant a treat and simply won’t go to one where the acoustics are horrible.

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