In recent years, it has become increasingly common for restaurants and coffee shops to play loud music or have a high noise level. While some may enjoy the lively atmosphere, it is important to recognize the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss and the benefits of quieter establishments.
Excessive noise levels can lead to a host of health problems, including tinnitus, hyperacusis, and noise-induced hearing loss. Tinnitus is a condition characterized by a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears, while hyperacusis is an increased sensitivity to sounds that are not necessarily loud. Noise-induced hearing loss is a gradual, irreversible loss of hearing caused by exposure to loud noise over a period of time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds. The problem is not limited to the young; people of all ages are susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss. In fact, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 15% of adults in the United States have some degree of hearing loss.
Restaurants and coffee shops are among the most common sources of noise exposure outside of the workplace. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends that noise levels in restaurants and coffee shops should not exceed 70 decibels (dB) in order to protect customers’ hearing. To put that in perspective, a normal conversation typically ranges from 60-65 dB, while a vacuum cleaner can reach 70-80 dB.
Unfortunately, many restaurants and coffee shops regularly exceed the 70 dB limit. A study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America found that noise levels in some New York City restaurants reached an average of 81 dB, with some peaking at over 90 dB. Another study conducted by ASHA found that the noise levels in coffee shops ranged from 63-96 dB, with an average of 73 dB.
These levels of noise can be dangerous to customers and staff alike. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), exposure to noise levels over 85 dB for prolonged periods of time can cause hearing loss. In addition, high levels of noise can lead to increased stress and anxiety, decreased productivity, and even physical discomfort such as headaches and ear pain.
The benefits of quieter restaurants and coffee shops go beyond just protecting customers’ hearing. Quieter establishments can actually enhance the dining or drinking experience. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that moderate levels of background noise can actually enhance the enjoyment of food and drink, while high levels of noise can detract from the experience.
In addition, quieter establishments can be more conducive to conversation and socializing. A study published in the journal Environment and Behavior found that people perceive quieter restaurants as more relaxing and intimate, and are more likely to engage in conversation with their dining companions. In contrast, noisy restaurants can make it difficult to hear or be heard, leading to frustration and decreased social interaction.
There are some simple steps that restaurants and coffee shops can take to reduce noise levels and protect their customers’ hearing. These include using noise-absorbing materials such as curtains, carpets, and acoustic panels, keeping music at a moderate volume, and placing speakers strategically to avoid creating hotspots of noise. Staff can also be trained to keep their voices down and avoid unnecessary noise, such as slamming dishes or shouting across the room.
Some establishments have already taken steps to create a quieter atmosphere. For example, the restaurant chain Eataly has implemented a “quiet hour” on weekdays from 3-4 pm, during which they reduce music and other noise levels to create a more relaxed atmosphere. Other restaurants and coffee shops have installed soundproofing materials or created separate areas for quiet conversation.