Loud is in when it comes to eating out. The trend of loud restaurants began with design—modern spaces filled with hard surfaces and featuring high ceilings—making voices bounce around the space. Some restaurants purposely amp up the noise level by playing loud music, forcing diners to shout above it.
More recently, diners and even food critics are rebelling against the trend by pointing out annoying noise levels in reviews and ratings. A recent article in The Washington Post goes even further by detailing how noisy restaurants discriminate against patrons with hearing loss.
People with “hidden” hearing loss can ace a standard hearing test but still struggle to hear in a noisy room. The search is on to better understand it—and diagnose it.
Tiffany Johnson’s ASHFoundation-supported research aims to help audiologists pinpoint the cause of a person’s hearing loss.
Noise above 85 decibels is dangerous and many restaurants serve their food with a side of background noise in the range of 75 to 90 decibels. Even with normal hearing, conversation becomes difficult. According to the article, loud restaurants violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because they are public places required by the law to accommodate disabilities. This would include turning down amplified sound or providing a quiet place for diners with hearing loss.
In the article, Daniel Fink, a noise activist and retired physician, says loud restaurants not only discriminate against people with hearing loss but can actually contribute to that hearing loss. “Everyone thinks that hearing loss is a normal part of aging,” Fink says. “It’s not. The major cause of hearing loss is noise exposure, and it’s entirely preventable.”
Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for the ASHA Leader. firstname.lastname@example.org.