There are a few things in life that drive me bonkers. One is when people discard their notes on the sidewalk instead of the trash can. Or when a person lets the lobby door close in my face — blissfully unaware that I’m behind, intent on slowing him down a few precious seconds.

Catch me in a cantankerous mood and I might make a snide remark to register my extreme annoyance.

And noisy restaurants? These easily fall in the category of things-we-could-do-to-increase-customer-satisfaction-but-just-won’t.

I’m not really talking about the venues with cavernous spaces and sound-reflecting wood floors that require you to speak up and listen more intently to your dinner companions – though it might have been smart to consider some investment in making a room more acoustically comfortable.

Noise Is an Equal-Opportunity Offender

No, what drives me off-the-wall bonkers is loud music in restaurants that are frequented by people of all ages. And this is not an age-related nonsense. I’ve been a noise-phobe since my teen years at the disco.

I always found it tedious to have to yell in friends’ ears to talk, so I settled for less communication in such places. The challenge came when I met someone new who could easily confuse my woman-of-few-words posture as “bug off, buddy, I’m not really interested.”

So, let me stipulate two things:

  • As mentioned, my noise sensitivity has little to do with my age and everything to do with my desire to be able to easily engage in conversation with those at the table.
  • Many of the noise-complaining restaurant reviews and articles I read online actually come from people who are decades younger.

Restaurateurs, What Are You Thinking?

Year after year, surveys by outlets like Zagat and Consumer Reports confirm that noise tops diners’ list of complaints. When I dine out, I, more often than not, need to ask my server, then, inevitability, the manager, to please turn down the music to a comfortable level.

Too often, I feel as though I’ve asked for something eccentric, and if I am accommodated, it sometimes feels like it’s been done grudgingly rather than with a sincere attempt to ensure customer delight.

Restaurant Owners Are Trying to Strike a Balance

I understand that a certain level of noise is necessary to make the dining experience pleasant and vibrant. After all, no one wants to feel like they’re in church when having a meal. I get that, and I’m on board.

On the other hand, quality sound-absorbing solutions cost a hefty sum, so an owner might opt for fancy chairs or a pastry chef instead.

And research points out that noisy spaces may spur customers to drink more and faster and unsurprisingly, prompt them to leave sooner than they might otherwise, thus increasing turnover. I certainly see the tradeoffs.

10 Ways to Get to Dine in Peace and Get Loud About the Problem

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), listening to sounds at 85 dBA (decibels) for over eight hours can lead to hearing loss. Increase it to 91 dBA and your safe listening time plunges down to two hours.

Hearing loss is known to contribute to social isolation, depression and poor quality of life. The negative effects of noise pollution have come to the fore. Here are some ways to help you hear and be heard.

Pick Venues Recommended for Acceptable Sound Levels

Similar to the Zagat of old, smartphone apps like SoundPrint and iHEARu crowdsource venue ratings based on decibel readings. iHEARu even includes timed displays to show noise-level variations at different hours of the day.

Use a sound rating app to learn what others are saying and find spots that meet your decibel test. Adding your ratings will help keep the app robust.

Use a Sound Level Meter or Decibel-Reading App to Educate Managers

It’s a good idea to carry a sound level meter or use an app to show the manager exactly how loud their restaurant is. Don’t give them an extensive lecture, but do mention the safe hearing upper limit. This will also show that consumers are becoming increasingly vocal on the issue.

Dine Between 5pm and 7pm

I know dining early is not for everyone, though it does work for me. You’ll likely be there before the crowd, which usually means relative quiet. And if you use Open Table, you might score bonus points from restaurants seeking to fill seats in off hours.

Ask for a Table in a Quiet Area

Some restaurants have additional halls or areas that are a little more secluded and less noisy. It’s worth asking for such a table, if it’s an option.

Ask Them to Lower the Music

Asking the personnel to lower the music doesn’t always work, but it’s better to try than suffer through it. If the server has no clout, ask for the manager.

Use the Right Search Terms

Before going out, Google your city name along with “quiet restaurants,” “quiet places to meet,” and “best quiet restaurants.” This kind of search will turn up articles and lists of venues in your locality.

Comment About Noise Levels in All Your Reviews

Let’s face it, we learn about noise levels from other people’s reviews. If they hadn’t bothered to write, we wouldn’t know about the unpleasant experience. So, write a few sentences about how the noise or lack of it helped shape your dining experience for better or worse.

Splurge

Look for restaurants that have carpets, drapes and tablecloths. This may mean going to fine dining establishments and spending more, but observers report some attempts at higher-end venues to address customer complaints.

Tell Your Story to Journalists Who Follow the Issue

It is a little on the extreme end, but journalists who cover public health want to learn about our experiences with noise pollution. They will welcome your stories and complaints and may feature you in an article!

One of them is Julia Belluz, a subject matter expert who is currently senior health correspondent at Vox.com. If you have a story to share or have been harmed by noise pollution, Julia invites you to write to her at julia.belluz@vox.com.

Tune in to the Ear-Friendly Movement

It bears repeating: ASHA says that if a venue’s sound level is at 91 dBA or higher, your safe listening time is only two hours. So, what about theaters, gyms and houses of worship?

iHEARu founder, audiologist Dr. Kelly Tremblay, is on a mission to help ensure that public places are ear friendly. So, to increase interest, iHEARu offers certification to businesses who meet its criteria. Tremblay is confident that displaying the ear-friendly seal of approval will draw in customers.

Which of the venues you recently visited felt uncomfortably noisy? Which one was pleasantly quiet? Do you have a noise story to share? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Janet BasiloneJanet Basilone has been a secretary, financial services marketer, and freelance writer for 20+ years. She is founder of Fine Diners Over 40™, a members-only dinner club in New York and Seattle. Occasionally she writes about restaurants, but found real purpose in adding her voice to the food waste reduction movement. She also writes about stories of renewal after age 40.

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