People sitting around a table at a restaurant.

Is it just me or are restaurants getting louder? You’ve undoubtedly asked yourself this question at least once.

For many, it makes dining out less enjoyable. You don’t linger and socialize like you once did. You even find yourself preferring take-out to battling the drone.

You wonder, is it you? Is it because of your hearing loss? Or is it the restaurants?

How Loud Are Restaurants Today

Washington Post journalist, Judith Weinraub took a decibel reader to many popular restaurants to help answer this question. Just how loud are restaurants these days? If you want to replicate her test at your favorite spots, you can get a free sound meter app on your smartphone.

She tested different times and occupancy levels. She sat in different sections in the restaurant.

She found the reading to be between 70 dB and 85 dB in the dining area. For reference, a typical human conversation is about 50 dB. 75 is a person screaming.

The problem is that prolonged exposure to 85 dB can cause permanent hearing loss.

Unfortunately, people didn’t think to test the sound levels in restaurants for our comparison and the technology was less accessible. But there are several reasons researchers say restaurants are getting louder.

Why Restaurants Are Getting Louder

Many of these factors simply didn’t exist even ten years ago. Go back 30 years and the change is even more drastic.

The Furniture

As dining has become more casual over the years, you see fewer tablecloths and curtains. The floors tend to be tile or hardwood rather than carpet. Tables and chairs are often a wood-plastic composite. Chairs and benches don’t have cushions.

This makes for a much sleeker and modern eatery. It also makes the space easier to keep clean. But all of these hard surfaces amplify sound rather than absorbing it.

Portable Devices

You know you can’t resist it. You love your smartphone as much as the millennials do. But the fact remains. More people are talking on devices in restaurants. They often raise their voices to be heard. It only contributes to higher volumes.

Declining Restaurant Margins

Many restaurant owners have admitted to turning the music up loud enough that it makes it hard for people sitting next to each other to have a conversation. Why?

Profit margins in the industry are slimmer today than ever. They don’t want people lingering to carry on conversations. Because as the noise levels increase, the speed people eat tends to increase and that means they ask for the check faster.

People Get Used to the Noise

People have just gotten used to all the noise. It’s louder in our homes. It’s louder on the street. Theaters are louder. Schools are louder.

Couple this with the fact that by the age of 18, 15% of people already have some hearing loss.

We simply have a population that doesn’t realize how loud it really is.

Noise Discomfort

On top of all of the reasons that things are getting louder, if you have hearing loss yourself, this can make some loud settings more uncomfortable or even painful.

People who have hearing loss don’t lose their hearing in an easy-to-identify fashion. Instead, they lose a frequency here and another there. This changes how things sound, which can make some sounds sound more grating on the ears.

How to Improve Your Hearing in Restaurants

As a person with hearing loss, you simply can’t compete with the noise. Even if your hearing loss is mild, at 70 dB, your dinner companion would have to yell to be heard. And your ability to listen to the server would be significantly reduced.

But don’t let this take your love for a great night out away from you. Restaurants are an important social event you should continue to enjoy.

If you’re finding restaurant noise unbearable, try this:

  • Look for restaurants with more soft surfaces. As discussed, they absorb sounds.
  • Ask for a table away from the speakers, kitchen, bar or other particularly noisy spots
  • Wear your hearing aid

A hearing aid can completely transform the restaurant experience. It’s easier to hear the server and your friends. Modern hearing aids can minimize background noise to improve the hearing experience. They can reduce noise-induced discomfort as they improve the hearing experience.

Talk to your audiologist. Get your hearing tested annually. Find out how much better everything is when you restore your ability to hear.