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Corby Kummer On BPR | 12/04

It's Not Just You. Restaurants Are Too Loud

Sanford Lee, Peter Peters, Jana Lynn Fu, Shari Dang, Kelly Deese
Restaurants are becoming increasingly loud.
Eugene Tanner/AP
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Corby Kummer On BPR | 12/04

There is an element of refinement you expect when eating at an expensive restaurant. This only makes sense — you want to feel like your experience is worth the amount money you pay for it. Why, then, are we all willing to put up with pricey restaurants that are so loud they can actually damage your hearing? We would never accept a cold steak, but we barely complain when we take a case of tinnitus home along with our leftovers.

The Atlantic last week published a piece called “How Restaurants Got So Loud” by Kate Wagner. It reassures all curmudgeon diners: It isn’t just you — restaurants really are too loud. While researching the story, Wagner said she went to a brewpub that was 90 decibels. Any noise level above 85 decibels is harmful to the human ear.

Wagner concludes that design shifts and the inclusions of bars into the main dining room have significantly increased the volume in restaurants. Mid-century modern decor, with its lack of upholstery, curtains, table clothes and carpets, is an acoustics nightmare, leaving practically nothing to dampen the sound levels.

Food critic and Senior Editor at The Atlantic Corby Kummer told Boston Public Radio Tuesday that restaurant owners began to maintain and raise the volume of their restaurants after they learned that loud dining rooms brought in more profits.

“It is a conscious business decision to make restaurants loud so that people will order more alcohol and food, which they do," Kummer said. "And to the delight of owners, they will leave sooner. When they leave sooner, it means more room, more turnover, more money."

In addition to ruining a dining experience, loud restaurants can also damage the hearing of its servers.

“This should become the second-hand smoke issue for servers," Kummer said. “It is damaging for back-to-back shifts, for servers to have to listen to this noise every night, and I hope they start mobilizing against noise.”

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