If you think restaurants are getting noisier, you’re right. New industrial design elements that favor bare, hard surfaces, high ceilings, exposed ductwork, and open, expansive dining rooms, along with increasing crowds due to a strong economy, now make noise the number one complaint by diners, according to a 2018 Zagat survey.
Those suffering the most are the 48 million Americans with hearing loss. Noisy restaurants with high levels of ambient sound make it nearly impossible for many baby boomers and others to follow a conversation at an increasing number of American eating establishments.
To uncover the scope of the problem, Oticon, maker of advanced hearing aids, commissioned mystery diners in 10 of America’s top food cities to secretly monitor the sound levels at 50 restaurants and document them using a sound level meter app on their iPhones™.
The study found that on average during peak Saturday night dining hours, diners were subjected to noise of 79.17 decibels (dB). That’s about as loud as a diesel train chugging along at 45 mph. Peak noise was even more debilitating, rising to as much as 133.40 dB in one Nashville restaurant. Try enjoying a conversation while sitting next to a blaring ambulance siren, which is roughly the noise equivalent.
The winners and losers
Which city had the loudest dining scene? Nashville topped the chart at 82.19 dB. As you might expect for Music City, live music was a contributing factor, as was the open or partially open kitchen design of restaurants.
And yet Austin, a city equally known for its great live music, had the quietest dining experience among cities measured at 75.60 dB.
Here’s how the cities ranked in order of average sound levels within popular restaurants:
|1.||Nashville – 82.19 dB|
|2.||Portland – 81.92 dB|
|3.||Washington, D.C. – 80.44 dB|
|4.||Denver – 80.32 dB|
|5.||San Diego – 79.23 dB|
|6.||Chicago – 78.94 dB|
|7.||Detroit – 78.45 dB|
|8.||St. Louis – 78.14 dB|
|9.||Seattle – 76.51 dB|
|10.||Austin – 75.60 dB|
For a complete list of how all cities and restaurants ranked, click here.
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