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Photo credit: Herry Lawford licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the Buffalo News discusses restaurant noise and the many fixes that can be done to make existing restaurants quieter. I have met Paul Battaglia, the architecture professor mentioned in the article, at meetings of the Institute for Noise Control Engineering. As he explained to me then, and as he said in the article, restaurant noise is not an inevitable accompaniment to dining.

Some of us believe that noise is the new secondhand smoke. Sadly, it appears that when restaurants are busy, restaurant owners have no incentive to make restaurants quieter. Some self-identified libertarians have told me, “people don’t really want quiet restaurants. If they did, the ‘invisible hand’ of economics would lead to quieter restaurants being more popular than noisy ones, and the problem would be solved.”

My response is that the restaurant noise issue, just like the secondhand smoke issue, is an example of market failure. Obtaining quieter restaurants will likely require government action, as did obtaining smoke-free restaurants. People don’t yet understand that many restaurants are loud enough to damage hearing, or that ambient noise in restaurants, preventing speech comprehension in those with hearing loss, is a disability rights issue.

I am certain that when people understand that their hearing is being damaged, they will push their elected officials to set standards for quiet restaurants.