Photo credit: Negative Space

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I developed tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (a sensitivity to noise levels that don’t bother others, with the noise causing pain) after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant in 2007. When I became a noise activist in 2014, my main goal was to find a way to make restaurants quieter so my wife and I could enjoy both the meal and the conversation when we dine out.

I’m still working on that.

Finding a quiet restaurant remains difficult in Los Angeles, and as this report in the Daily Mail shows, is also a problem in London.

Based on data collected on the Soundprint app from more than 1350 restaurants in London, the Daily Mail reports that in more than half the restaurants the average noise level was over 76 decibels, about as loud as a lawnmower. Peak noise levels hit 80 decibels in half the restaurants. Obviously, those ambient noise levels make conversation difficult.

Perhaps more importantly, that’s loud enough to cause auditory damage. As the Daily Mail notes, “[a]ccording to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period may start to damage your hearing, while noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears.” The ten noisiest restaurants in London had noise levels over 90 decibels, which for me is a painful sound pressure level.

Maybe noisy restaurants are only a problem in the English-speaking world? In general, restaurants in France and Italy, where good food seems to be more appreciated, are quieter.

Regardless, restaurant noise is a problem worldwide. An conservative economist once told me that obviously people don’t want quieter restaurants because if they did, market forces would lead to quieter restaurants. I told him this was an example of market failure, an insufficiently studied topic in the dismal science, and that government regulation was required.

I’m still waiting for some town or city council somewhere to pass a quiet restaurant ordinance. Until then, I’ll keep my earplugs in my pocket when we head to a restaurant.