Photo credit: Chan Walrus from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Restaurant noise is my bete noire. I developed tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (a sensitivity to loud noise) after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve in 2007. As I write in the Acknowledgements section of many of my noise publications, my goal is to find a quiet restaurant in which to enjoy the food and the conversation with my wife.

The Guardian’s food writer, Grace Dent, recently reviewed a new restaurant, Bibo in London. As she noted, it was louder than a nightclub at midnight.

Dent writes:

Many restaurants these days are far too noisy. I can tell this by how, in some places, I have to lipread my guest from almost the second I’m seated or nod pointlessly while I guess the rough gist of what they’re telling me. And how, time and again, I suddenly become quite subdued, because going into detail during an anecdote is futile. Dinner with friends is all about telling stories, and stories are all about detail; they are also about timing and red herrings and withholding information until the perfect point. And none of that can happen at places such as Bibo that, my new app told me, play dance music at 84 decibels. Am I the only person who, when cooking in my own kitchen, turns down the radio to concentrate when I taste and season, as if my senses can properly focus on only one thing?

Other than a quick bite at lunch, before working from home became the norm, people usually go to restaurants not just because we don’t want to cook, or we want to taste something that’s too difficult to make at home or has ingredients we just can’t get at our local grocery store, but because we want to dine with others.

Dining with others allows pleasant conversation, and to me that’s really more important than the food.

Some people like noisy restaurants, but the Zagat restaurant surveys consistently show that noise is the first or second most frequent complaint of diners, alternating for first place from year to year with poor service.

Unfortunately, just as with smoke-filled restaurants and bars in former times, it will probably take government action to mandate quieter restaurants.

If enough people complain to their local elected officials, maybe somewhere in the country, a quiet restaurant law will be enacted and enforced.