Silence is Golden!
Excessive noise can ruin a good meal. In fact, noise is currently the second most common complaint amongst restaurant-goers, behind poor service.
Restaurants are, by their very nature noisy places – full of happy people, talking, socialising, laughing – often over background music.
Did you know that when we review a restaurant, we take a reading of the noise levels, which are factored into the final score. A reading above 65dB is considered “noisy” – and the majority of restaurants are well above 70dB – some are in the high 80’s and 90’s, meaning that the majority are noisy! If you wish to check yours – there are some good free apps for iPhone and Android including Decibel Meter and Decibel X.
Some restaurant noise levels are the equivalent of diners enduring lawn mowers, power drills, heavy traffic and whirring blenders whilst trying to enjoy their meals. Sustained durations of 90 dB noise levels result in hearing damage. These are levels where employers must issue sound protective safety equipment to workers, and many restaurants showed levels in excess of this figure. In fact in 2011, Safe Work Australia received a submission from Restaurant and Catering Australia that said because “average noise levels in restaurants range between 50 and 90 decibels”, the acceptable standard for noise levels in the workplace should be lifted from 85 decibels to 100 decibels”.
“Would you like a side order of hearing loss with that?”
Research has shown that significant levels of background noise can affect the flavour of a meal, reducing a person’s ability to detect salt and sweet foods. And it can certainly be a turn-off. When we go out to eat, we go out to socialise – talk, chat, gossip and enjoy the food and wine. We don’t want to have to shout or lean across the table.
Some sounds can be beneficial. All of our senses – taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound – combine to contribute to our enjoyment when we eat and drink. And sound is part of this. When we eat we actually listen to the crunch – if you cannot hear the crunch of a potato crisp or corn chip, it will taste stale! Heston Blumenthal produced a delicate seafood dish called “Sound of the Sea” where he supplies ear pods playing the sounds of the ocean, which intensify the experience of a seafood dish. Even the choice of music can enhance a meal.
And of course, most restaurant owners like a certain noise level in their restaurants to create atmosphere. Quiet restaurants, according to some, are solemn and not necessarily a great dining experience.
But too much of anything can be a bad thing. Excessive noise can not only affect our flavour perceptions but also make it difficult to talk to one another and even make it difficult to give your waiter an order. As the restaurant fills with diners, the noise levels rise and we raise our voices to be heard. The sound waves bounce around, particularly on hard surfaces, creating a cacophony of conversations, scraping chairs, clinking cutlery and background music that no one is listening to. Excessive noise can be uncomfortable especially for people with hearing aids, for Autistic children and others with noise sensitivities. And sustained excessive noise can cause hearing loss. This is especially significant for the staff working in the venues who are exposed to the high noise levels everyday – and may be why the waiter cannot hear your order!
With this in mind, Worth a Detour have recently agreed to collaborate with a group called The Ambient Menu.
The Ambient Menu is a web app that connects people, who struggle to hear in background noise, to an acoustically friendly restaurant. The Ambient Menu act as a conduit to guide you to a restaurant where you can comfortably have a conversation.
Laura Drexler is an Audiologist and a passionate foodie who created the Ambient Menu. Whilst at university she researched whether hearing loss affected commensality, and if so, how? What became overwhelmingly apparent during the interviews was that people with hearing loss didn’t mention the family dinner; they all spoke about how they struggled at social occasions in restaurants. That one situation was where they felt isolated, missed out on conversation, felt exhausted from increased listening effort, and would rather avoid that situation all together than catch up with friends.
Worth a Detour and The Ambient Menu both believe everyone has the right to partake in good conversation, eat good food, and receive good service.
The Ambient Menu aims to act as a conduit to connect the ideal restaurant to the ideal consumer, encouraging a symbiotic relationship between the two. This encourages socially active living for people with hearing loss, improving their lives while supporting local restaurants and the community.
The Ambient Menu mission is to take the ‘din’ out of dinner.
In future, all Worth a Detour recommendations will include an audio rating for those who struggle to hear speech through the background noise.