Could a simple decibel meter solve restaurants' noise problems?

Illustration for article titled Could a simple decibel meter solve restaurants' noise problems?
Photo: CREATISTA (iStock)

You’ve dealt with it before, whether in a sports bar or a modern-minded fine dining establishment. You’re excited to converse with those joining you, only to enter a restaurant where the music and/or televisions are so loud that you can barely hear yourself think. Asking wait staff what they can do about the volume will only accomplish so much, especially if it’s the sort of restaurant where noise is a deliberate choice for ambiance. So you dine, and you half-yell your conversation, hoping nobody else is listening in as you go.


Noise is a growing concern in many restaurants, and a Detroit Free Press feature about the sensory experience of dining in a loud room draws attention to one restaurant’s test workaround. Ima, an acclaimed noodle shop in downtown Detroit, has installed a decibel meter that allows management and staff to track how loud the restaurant gets during certain parts of the day. The meter was “installed as a simple way to standardize the restaurant’s noise levels among the staff, who are instructed to keep the levels within a certain sweet spot, lower at lunch and higher during the busier dinner services to match the mood.”

It’s a clever method of gauging the shifting atmosphere of a restaurant, although it’s unlikely to sway those who just prefer a quieter dining experience. The feature goes on to discuss some of the broader implications of restaurant volume, namely the ways in which sensory over-stimulation might affect one’s experience with the food itself; as one researcher observes, “The pleasures of the table reside far more in the mind than we realize and perhaps even more in the mind than in the mouth.” One man’s pleasantly lively atmosphere is another’s meal-ruining cacophony, and this is the position from which restaurants have to adjust as they go.

We put it to you, dear Takeout commenters: how much volume is too much, when you go out to eat?


Fred Fuchs

I went out with my wife and kids to one of my favorite places 2 months ago. I don’t often get to go because I know it’s not my wife’s favorite, so I try not to suggest it too much. When we got there, it was so fucking loud from the goddamn music that you’d think the place was turned into some ridiculous club. On top of that they also had the TV turned way up. My wife tried to ask the waitress about the music volume, but the waitress couldn’t hear what she was asking for. I started getting incredibly anxious about 2 minutes after we sat down. I have some pretty severe PTSD and my wife saw it coming on. She sent me out to the car with the kids. About 7 minute later she got to the car. She told the waitress we were leaving before our drinks even arrived because we couldn’t hear shit, then talked to the manager about how excessive the noise was. I’m sure my wife gave him a bunch of crap about how we live in a military town with a lot of veterans who can’t handle excessive noise, but she keeps that from me. It was completely ridiculous.

Long story short, if the music and TV are so loud you can't hear your customers complaining about the volume, it's too fucking loud.