"On this issue, the law has largely remained silent."
June 19, 2019 11:51 AM   Subscribe

For those with hearing impairments, restaurant noise isn’t just an irritation. It’s discrimination. Under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, restaurants — as places of public accommodation — must accommodate disabilities. But what if the disability is a hearing impairment, and the request is for a lower volume?
posted by still_wears_a_hat (79 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
How we know that the law has remained silent as opposed to "the law said something about it but the restaurants were blasting Wonderwall at top volume so no one heard them"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on June 19 [37 favorites]


Omg please. I would love for this to be taken seriously.
posted by agregoli at 12:04 PM on June 19 [37 favorites]


Hell yeah. And as usual when you respect and design for people with disabilities EVERYONE benefits from a more accessible environment.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:06 PM on June 19 [67 favorites]


I don't have any official diagnosed hearing loss, but that doesn't change the fact that my hearing stinks and I have a hard time understanding what people are saying to me in noisy environments and/or if I can't see their lips move. Particularly women's voices, which is a fun look for a cis white man, doesn't make it seem like I'm just ignoring or not paying attention to women at all. =_=

So anyway I'd love it if restaurants could fucking cheese it with the loud music so I could, like, talk to anyone who is not immediately to my left or right on social outings.
posted by Caduceus at 12:09 PM on June 19 [31 favorites]


It's not just music, it's all the hard surfaces that are in vogue right now that cause normal crowd noise to be amplified to deafening volumes. There's an art gallery near me that does some terrific photography shows but I've had to quit going to the openings because the place is all concrete and steel and the noise level is painful.
posted by octothorpe at 12:13 PM on June 19 [36 favorites]


As someone who does have an officially-diagnosed hearing loss, let me say hoo fucking rah (at a reasonable volume, of course). If you're not an actual club with people dancing, utilize your sound system's volume knob in a counterclockwise direction; I'll show you how if that's confusing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:21 PM on June 19 [16 favorites]


Yes, so much this. My hearing isn't great, and auditory filtering is what really gets me, so loud restaurants are not fun.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 12:23 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


Restaurants have always been somewhat noisy - but the design trends (and cost-cutting) have made them worse. If we had more curtains, tablecloths and other soft furnishings, they would be a lot quieter.

And it is a disability rights issue: I have a family member with hearing loss for whom many restaurants are now a no-go. I don't appreciate loudness, but he really cannot function. I've sat on the internet figuring out where we can go - and I wish there were just a list of local restaurants by sound level. Soundprint (an app that does that) is now available for Android; I should check to see if it's added our city. If not, maybe we should get on doing that.

(I am reminded also of the last mefi meet-up I attended - we ended up by bad luck at a cafe/bar where the volume of the music was at high-for-a-nightclub levels, but this was a crowded little place. We kept asking the staff to turn the music down so that we could hear the people across the table and, you know, actually enjoy our meet-up. Sometimes they would, only to jack it up again a few minutes later.

I live near that place - and I haven't set foot in there since, and actively recommend people away from it.)
posted by jb at 12:24 PM on June 19 [19 favorites]


I have great hearing and I would also love it if restaurants had to keep the music below a certain level. Also, what octothorpe said about lack of reflection dampening.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:24 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


I wonder how this compares to crowd noise at pop-culture conventions or political rallies.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:24 PM on June 19


It's possible there's a legal case for requiring music to be turned down under the ACA, but music is almost never the issue in restaurants I visit, it's other people. And I doubt the courts are going to give much support to the idea that it is a reasonable accommodation for the restaurant to ask people to shut up, since socializing is considered a core function of eating out.

For the more general issue of noise levels that reach damaging levels, it'd be interesting to see it become an issue of workplace safety. Customers aren't really the concern here, it's staff that may be spending 8 hours or more in high noise environments. Though it would probably go the path of requiring hearing protection be supplied, I'd guess.
posted by tavella at 12:25 PM on June 19 [24 favorites]


A restaurant I frequent remodeled a few months ago. They stripped out the carpet and replaced it with hard flooring, and removed all of the baffles that separated the booths. The noise levels tripled overnight.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:26 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


Please! There's a Mexican place around the corner that I find painful during busy periods. They don't play music but the bare industrial decor amplifies all the sounds to the point it's almost impossible to talk to someone at your table. Put some damn fabric on the walls!
posted by cmfletcher at 12:27 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


music is almost never the issue in restaurants I visit, it's other people

People talk louder when the music is louder, and then louder again to get heard over the other loud people. It is impossible to have a quiet conversation with music above a certain threshold.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:27 PM on June 19 [33 favorites]


I get the problem. I have struggled to hear conversations in noisy restaurants as well. But I agree with tavella that lowering the music volume probably won't have much impact. There is the problem of volume escalation... people talk louder to be heard, and the room gets louder, and so on until everyone is near shouting.

It reminds me of visiting my daughter's lunchroom at school. The kids start quiet, and it gets louder and louder, until... the lunch lady blows her whistle and tells them to clam up.

With that in mind, I propose government mandated lunch ladies in all noisy restaurants!
posted by ecorrocio at 12:37 PM on June 19 [24 favorites]


There is an Italian place in Berkeley that's all exposed wood and hard surfaces, but: they have this magical* active noise canceling system that very, very effectively makes people at your table audible.

The owner seems very proud of it, and it has become my go-to place for dinners out with friends.

* Is not actual magic, I think it's spectral analysis with phase canceling
posted by salt grass at 12:38 PM on June 19 [36 favorites]


I guess my point is: I hope such canceling systems catch on elsewhere.
posted by salt grass at 12:39 PM on June 19 [10 favorites]


Is not actual magic

Sufficiently advanced technology.
posted by CaseyB at 12:41 PM on June 19 [29 favorites]


GOD yes. I'm hoh with so many fucking sensory issues and being in public is a nightmare if I have to communicate with anyone and not just gently dissociate until I reach my destination. I haven't been inside a busy restaurant in years, I'd rather be shot in the face.

Turning down the music WILL have a demonstrable effect, as you can plainly see from restaurants that do not have loudly blaring music at all. No one needs to shout over the sound of it or the sound of everyone shouting over the sound of the loudly blaring music. But yes, the noise-magnifying design of so many places is an acoustical nightmare and I wish more people had a single fucking clue.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:41 PM on June 19 [15 favorites]


Getting sound under control is completely doable from a design perspective. You can add sound absorption panels to the underside of tables, and to the ceiling. (cool about the active noise control!) Also, making rooms irregularly shaped helps too. But, it's a common understanding that restaurant owners LIKE their establishments to be loud (at least those that want to turn tables). If it's loud, it's busy, if it's busy, it's popular, if it's popular, it's good. Also, if it's loud, you don't linger.
And there's always that one table where everyone is having the BEST time, and HAHAHA, and WHAT!? Because when they leave, all of a sudden, you can hear again.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 12:43 PM on June 19 [11 favorites]


*Is not actual magic, I think it's [a] spectral analysis with phase canceling

...school lunch lady.
posted by gwint at 12:52 PM on June 19


Halloween Jack: "If you're not an actual club with people dancing"

Nah, let's regulate that so we stop giving people hearing-loss. Clubs seem to have become increasingly negligent with the volume levels they put out.
posted by schmod at 12:53 PM on June 19 [24 favorites]


The lobby of my work building was remodeled and they added a coffee shop and a bunch of seating. The noise at lunch is deafening and most of the seating is just fabric on a hard surface with no padding. Is it meant to be welcoming or not? I don't actually know.
posted by soelo at 12:58 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Hell, I'd be happy if my wife would just speak up and/or turn her head to look at me when she was speaking so I didn't have to "Huh?" or "What did you say?" our day into oblivion. I've given up on asking so I just eat the consequences when I get the inevitable "I did tell you to X." and I have to use the "I didn't hear you." defense, which always goes so well.

We are re-watching the Game of Throne seasons that we got to until we quit so maybe I'll just go back to full fledged Hodor-ing, even at point blank range.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:12 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Several years ago I was at a well-regarded restaurant, but seated close to the loud bussing station. People began to talk louder to be heard and so people began to talk louder still in an ever ascending spiral. The guy seated just behind me was practically yelling. Fed up, I turned around and said, "Can you PLEASE use your inside voice." I was probably more shocked that I said it than he was. I regret nothing.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:16 PM on June 19 [10 favorites]


Being hearing impaired, I just gave up on dining in restaurants altogether. If there's no enjoyment, there's no point.

Great business model there, fellas.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:28 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I was just at a jazz club/restaurant in Montreal and I was immediately impressed with the quiet tone of the place. Everyone was talking and laughing (music had yet to begin) but at conversational tones. It makes me relax just to remember it. I have to wonder if the studies that conclude everyone drinks more if the music is loud take into account all the folks that just won't ever go back because of the noise.
posted by InkaLomax at 1:31 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I just gave up on dining in restaurants altogether.
Similarly I've given up on going to concerts. If you have to wear hearing protection to listen to music, something has gone wrong.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:37 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


I have a relatively mild hearing impairment and only wear my hearing aid when I really care about knowing what people are saying (my audiologist wants me to wear it all the time). It is an invisible disability, and people are often annoyed when I explain, because it feels so inconvenient to them - or else they tell the same really annoying jokes ("What's that you said?"). Either way, they forget very quickly that they need to speak clearly for me to understand anything. I mostly just resign myself to not hearing people in restaurants.

I compete in age-group competition in a sport (fencing) where there is a lot of clashing and beeping noise and where we all wear masks, and so my buddies and I in the over-60 events generally corner the referee before the tournament starts (if the referee isn't one of our regulars) and explain that we need them to speak loudly. They try to tell us that we can just look at the pool sheet to know what is going on, and we all patiently explain that many of us can't wear our glasses under our masks and can't read the tiny print.
posted by Peach at 1:44 PM on June 19 [11 favorites]


It's possible there's a legal case for requiring music to be turned down under the ACA, but music is almost never the issue in restaurants I visit, it's other people. And I doubt the courts are going to give much support to the idea that it is a reasonable accommodation for the restaurant to ask people to shut up, since socializing is considered a core function of eating out.

This has been my experience as well. Personally, when I've encountered painfully loud restaurants, it's not because folks are struggling to overcompensate for loud music- in fact, lots of loud restaurants I can think of don't have much music at all. Some adults just like to YELL when they're around friends, when they're having alcohol, or when they're in a large group. I'm all for restaurants having to take steps to reduce noise bouncing around (or to just play music at a reasonable level), but I can't think of a good non-stressful way for restaurants to make loud adults be less loud.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:44 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


I have a diagnosed hearing loss. Yes, turn the music down. You're not creating a party when there's no party to be found.

But please... No carpets in restaurants. Ugh. Design trends may be one aspect, but hard surfaces are easier to clean and keep clean.
posted by SoberHighland at 1:56 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


"Some adults just like to YELL when they're around friends, when they're having acohol...
^^^This, so much this. I've heard a table become nearly twice as loud as the evening progressed, and more drink consumed. This leads to others having to raise their voices to be heard, and yup, pretty soon we're all yelling!
Our solution is to go to dinner as early as our favorite place opens, when we can still hear each other, and ourselves think.
posted by dbmcd at 1:59 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


There's a French restaurant in SF that remains quiet for a variety of reasons, but I notice that they have like 1" of some kind of felt lining the underside of each table. I had not seen that elsewhere.
posted by salt grass at 1:59 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]


I'm fascinated to see what happens this fall when everyone with an Apple Watch is walking around with a noise meter on their wrist. We all know restaurants are loud, to the point they're just straight-up inaccessible to people, but there's a difference between knowing it and having a device tap you on the wrist and warn you that it's over 90db in here.
posted by zachlipton at 2:01 PM on June 19 [9 favorites]


They could ask them to be less loud. I would be hella excited to go back to a place that told noisy patrons to take it down a notch, please.
posted by agregoli at 2:03 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


(And managers, not waitstaff, should do the shushing)
posted by agregoli at 2:03 PM on June 19 [10 favorites]


Some restaurants, for example, brag that they are the loudest place in town.
Great business model, indeed. If I saw a place making that claim, I would be sure to never go there.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:21 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


the DJ in me feels compelled to say, music is not the problem, it's people talking over music that's the problem. Everybody just needs to shut up and listen to good music. Except most restaurants have shitty music, usually some digital service that comes bundled with their cable TV or satellite or whatever, which some teenager in the kitchen then tunes to what they want to listen to. The problem as always is teenagers.
posted by philip-random at 2:50 PM on June 19


Restaurants are deliberately designed to be loud much of the time, the theory being that a loud dining room means a lot of patrons in your place, and hence, that you’re running a very a popular establishment. And who doesn’t want to be seen at the popular establishments?

I once went on a date at a wine bar here in NYC, and next to us were seated a group of maybe six people. Every five minutes or so, the entire group in unison would let out high a freakishly loud laugh that sounded like a pterodactyl shriek at close range. I’m highly sensitive to sound, and I had to leave; it was actually physically painful for me to be there. You can imagine how the date went. There's no fucking reason for people to be that loud inside unless they’re in physical danger, and there’s no reason for management to allow it.
posted by holborne at 2:52 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


(Sorry, I didn’t notice until after I posted that Carmody'sPrize had already noted that loud restaurants are designed that way deliberately.)
posted by holborne at 2:56 PM on June 19


We visited the most popular restaurant in town a few weeks back, a 'festive Southwestern-Mexican' spot with tile on every surface and zero sound baffling. Stepping through the front door is not unlike a visit to the tropical bird sanctuary at our local zoo. A cacophony of cackles and screeches, monologues and boisterous, bellowing chatter.
The culprit: above every table is a speaker, pointed directly downward, that produces a 'cone of deafness'; a downpour of Tejano music that engulfs anyone seated at a table/booth, yet is barely perceptible by waitstaff standing tableside. During our meal, the staff actually turned the music UP in response to the noisy patrons--akin to tossing bread into the bird sanctuary.
In my lengthy written assessment to management, I sketched out the location of every speaker in the restaurant and promised to bring my decibel meter on my next visit to take 10-15 samples across the restaurant, which I will share with the restaurant management and the Department of Health.
The manager's reply was pretty cool, actually; the first time someone had delivered a detailed assessment of an issue they didn't know how to solve. They promised to call the A/V installer to find a fix, but you know how these things go. Acoustic panels will cover the wall murals--so a no go. Rugs, curtains don't fit the motif. Music is essential to the vibe...plus that monthly streaming service is critical for the vibe. Business is good. Status quo = revenue. To hell with sensitive ears.
posted by prinado at 3:08 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


So, I have a hearing disability. Or mutant superpower, depending on how you look at it. After years of seeing ENTs, all kinds of brain scans and tests, custom-made sound dampening inserts, and long-term trials of various medications (generally related to seizure prevention, i.e. Klonopin et. al.), I basically gave up on trying to get professional help with what was generally diagnosed by my many doctors as "hyperacusis." Basically, I have the opposite problem of what 99% of people with a hearing disability have (inability to hear well) - I hear TOO well which means my auditory nerve system gets overloaded in loud environments.

It's not tinnitus, I've never experienced ringing sensations and tests confirmed I don't have that.

Remember televisions back when you could tune them to a channel with no signal and you'd get that loud static sound? That's what I hear every time I'm in an environment where the sound is too loud. Loud restaurants, the subway, the movie theater, eating corn chips, a showerhead with good pressure, the windows down while driving fast, you name it: instead of the sound, I hear that tearing, ripping static in my ears. And it fucking hurts. Imagine hearing basically the equivalent of the Blue Angels flying overhead any time a sound is above a certain decible - that's what I had.

In some ways, it was weirdly cool - I could hear conversations across a crowded restaurant if the din already wasn't so loud that it was overloading me. I could repeat back conversations friends were having at the opposite end of the bar to the friends sitting next to me, then they would go over and confirm what I just told them, and be amazed. One time I heard the band in college starting up before the homecoming football game, except we were like 2 miles away across town, and everyone was like "Yeah right I don't hear anything." Stuff like that.

Then, one of the more prescient ENTs I saw suggested that I just expose myself to the sound levels rather than trying to prevent them via earplugs and other devices, in a hope that it would kind of wear down my nerves to more normal levels. After about a decade of no longer trying to protect my ears, by my mid-30's that seemed to have worked, to an extent. Certain movies or volumes on my headset for conference calls and the like can still cause me problems.

Would I rather have this than an inability to hear (which perhaps could be helped, perhaps not?)? Sure. But adding loud music to places like restaurants that have no earthly reason for needing to create louder environments, difficulties for those who can't hear (or can hear too well), and generally abusing one of everyone's senses makes...NO SENSE...to me. Seriously people, turn it down a notch. I'm not some old man on his porch here.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:11 PM on June 19 [9 favorites]


I'm only in my early thirties and the amount of times I have to smile and nod because I can't tell wtf people are saying at bars is... troubling.
posted by scose at 3:16 PM on June 19 [10 favorites]


Turning down the music WILL have a demonstrable effect, as you can plainly see from restaurants that do not have loudly blaring music at all.

The restaurants I'm talking about don't play music at all; they are just very crowded with mostly young people talking loudly to each other. You can get the ramp-up effect just fine without music.
posted by tavella at 3:47 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Is it meant to be welcoming or not? I don't actually know

My understanding is that the sound design* is deliberate to encourage high turnover. They don’t want people lingering over a meal, talking to each other and not ordering. They want you up and out so other people can take your table.

I have wanted an app like Soundprint forever. Hi-fi earplugs only do so much, and I actually am getting tinnitus.

*designed by, presumably, Satan
posted by schadenfrau at 3:51 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


While I agree people can be noisy without music, I have so say loud music makes it so much worse. I won a round of applause from patrons at a popular breakfast spot in Hong Kong because I successfully harangued the manager into turning down the pounding music. At 8:00am.
posted by frumiousb at 4:36 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I am hearing impaired. It is very much an invisible disability, thank you, Peach. It affects a person's social life significantly; it can be quite isolating. Decent hearing aids start at 2,000 at Costco. It's not that hard to accommodate hearing issues. For a restaurant to refuse an easy accommodation for a person with a disability is pretty foolish. Still, I have to remind siblings *every time* that if they use speakerphone, I won't understand them. Le sigh. Just today, I told someone I don't hear well; if you aren't facing me, I won't know what you're saying. She chatted away as we walked to a meeting, I have no idea what she said.

My probably congenital hearing loss was diagnosed at age 40, because people told me I had a loud voice; turns out I literally don't hear my own voice completely. It takes tremendous, constant effort for me to manage in the audio world. Those loud people? Maybe they've lost a lot of hearing capacity. They have a couple drinks, and the effort to hear/ comprehend isn't happening. In my case, I try to modulate my voice, but it takes that much more effort. If there are hearing impaired people in your life, I assure you it is *vastly* more difficult for them than for you.
posted by theora55 at 5:33 PM on June 19 [17 favorites]


I have been told that Burp Castle bar in NYC's East Village is an oasis of aural tranquility due to bartenders who will come by and shush you if you're speaking much above a whisper, and music limited to low volume Gregorian Chants. New Yorkers, is this true?
posted by Jackson at 5:54 PM on June 19 [14 favorites]


It is indeed. They have a great beer selection as well.
posted by holborne at 6:08 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Loud restaurants and bars have been my nemeses basically my entire life. Even as a hip youngster, my favorite place to go was a bar that was a coffee shop during the day and kept that same chill, quiet vibe once they began serving booze in the evening. I always enjoy my trips to the UK because there are plenty of quiet pubs whereas in the US a quiet bar is an oxymoron.

Both my mom and my FIL have hearing impairments and I pick restaurants really carefully when we go out to eat. I just downloaded Soundprint and it looks like it's going to be super useful.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:10 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


My probably congenital hearing loss was diagnosed at age 40, because people told me I had a loud voice; turns out I literally don't hear my own voice completely. It takes tremendous, constant effort for me to manage in the audio world. Those loud people? Maybe they've lost a lot of hearing capacity. They have a couple drinks, and the effort to hear/ comprehend isn't happening. In my case, I try to modulate my voice, but it takes that much more effort. If there are hearing impaired people in your life, I assure you it is *vastly* more difficult for them than for you.

Hopefully I'm not being rude, but like, have you ever gotten asked by a restaurant to be quieter, and how did you handle that? (Not trying to gotcha you or anything, just curious about your experiences as a person who has both a loud voice and a need to be loud in order to hear yourself.)
posted by 23skidoo at 6:24 PM on June 19


The last time I went to a movie was in 2009, because the sound was so ridiculously loud—presumably so everyone could hear over all the a-holes talking. A friend told me it’s better now that the theaters have to cater to the folks dumb enough to still go (okay, he didn’t exactly put it that way).

I think that enough people don’t understand that hearing loss is forever that it can still be a win to crank the noise, either through overamping or intentionally bad acoustics. Turns out on the movie front that the beer and popcorn are cheaper and better at my house.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:26 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Years ago I went into a Port of Subs (sandwich chain) one weekend evening. Death Metal was playing. At what must have been the max level. The teen employees were alone and there were no customers at the moment. It was definitely deafening death metal.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 6:37 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I am not *technically* hard of hearing but I have reduced...hearthrough? Due to ear drum scarring from many childhood ear infections. Amounts to the same. Those noises just dont get through. After nearly 18 years together mr supermedusa will still speak to me from many feet away, back turned, in a COSTCO, and expect me to hear or understand him 🙄

And yet some how my ears are SUPER sensitive to loud noises...
posted by supermedusa at 6:44 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


Welcome to your jam band future
posted by eustatic at 7:53 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


F==in movie theaters, the volume is so bad sometimes that I honestly was plugging my ears.Went to see Aladdin and my 90 yr old pretty deaf father was complaining about the volume. I had to plug my ears during the musical numbers.
posted by boilermonster at 12:30 AM on June 20


I have concert earplugs for movies, and I really, really don't like forgetting them. As a bonus, they also reduce the ambient noise of the other moviegoers, so unless someone is crunching loudly on popcorn behind me, it's pretty silent.
posted by snakeling at 5:14 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


I do feel some sympathy for people who can’t enjoy that part of moviegoing, but for me there’s nothing like hearing a great sound mix at the levels it was intended to be played at. I’m almost always disappointed by the sound levels at my suburban multiplexes, though they are sometimes louder in the city. I have a great 4K TV at home and a big Blu-ray collection, but I can’t play movies at the correct volume unless I know for sure all my neighbors are out of the house, so that’s one of the reasons I go to theaters. (I often wear earplugs at rock concerts but only once or twice in my whole life have I thought a movie was too loud.)

I completely agree about noisy restaurants, though. A miserable experience.
posted by Mothlight at 5:29 AM on June 20


Progress in this area is also super useful for folks like me who have auditory processing issues rather than hearing loss. In noisy environments, like a restaurant or my office cafeteria, I find it really hard to concentrate on the sound of the person I'm supposed to be listening to; it's like my brain treats all input equally, or sometimes even focuses more on a thing I'm not trying to listen to, which makes it really hard to follow the person I'm meant to be talking to.

I would also support a move to restrict the use of TVs in restaurants, bars and other public spaces, as I have nearly exactly the same issue with visual processing - as soon as there's a moving shiny thing in my field of vision, like a TV screen, I find it nearly impossible to focus my vision on anything else. I never want to watch TV when I'm out, but I also can't not if there's one on and I can see it.
posted by terretu at 5:43 AM on June 20 [12 favorites]


...for me there’s nothing like hearing a great sound mix at the levels it was intended to be played at.

I don't think that the movies (or more often, trailers) I've had blasted at me at pain-level were intended to be played that loud. I have left my seat to request a decrease in volume, with some success.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:49 AM on June 20 [4 favorites]


I'm not hard of hearing, but -- loud sounds are my migraine trigger. I mostly don't go to movies anymore, and if I do, definitely earplugs. I have absolutely walked out of restaurants for self-preservation, because I don't want to spend the next 24 hours paying for their hipness.

We have a James Beard-chef place near us, and we go not infrequently. The waitstaff are quite attentive, as you'd expect at that level. It's a small place, with maybe 12 tables somewhat crowded in a small farmhouse room. Sometimes we love it there; the food is exquisite.

But sometimes we leave and say, never again. That small room gets noisy, people talk louder because of the noise, and it just feeds forward from there. Last spring I left with a migraine and vomited up my $100 dinner, because some dude at the next table was having THE TIME OF HIS LIFE!!!! and was just roaring laughter with each breath ... straight into my ear, just a few feet away.

I really wish this place would pay attention to that aspect of environment. I know they won't. But I can wish.

Tom Seitsema (WaPo food reviewer) is paying more attention to decibel level.
posted by Dashy at 8:30 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


turning down the volume is so easy

You'd think so, but it is obvious that this causes unbearable physical and metaphysical pain to anyone who tries.

I've asked -often- and never, ever heard sound go down to anything less than 10.99 from 11.
posted by Dashy at 8:32 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Dashy, I get why people are so reluctant to do it and that it's for the same reasons that people think about ramps as an aesthetic option rather than something mandatory. What I'm saying is, there's no real barrier to actually turning down the volume other than people's shitty attitudes - it doesn't require any architectural alteration, building permits, or even a real plan. It's physically easy to do and can be done by anyone with access to it - no special training is required. And yet, here we are, living in a society where it's just too much to ask for.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:40 AM on June 20 [7 favorites]


FWIW according to Soundpring every bar within a mile of my apartment is loud enough to cause hearing damage.

Which, like, I knew. But yeah. This should go the way of bar smoking bans. It's just not that hard to add some design elements to dampen sound.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:46 AM on June 20


places of public accommodation — must accommodate disabilities. But what if the disability is a hearing impairment, and the request is for a lower volume?

Since third parties are responsible, the restaurant cannot be held liable.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:57 AM on June 20


What? Businesses do have to accommodate, not just the feds.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:59 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Music is definitely part of the problem. It's not just people who are deaf or hoh, people with sensory issues also have a hard time and aren't being accommodated. for me, as someone with processing issues, it's equal parts volume and quantity of noises. You could have two places, both at 80db, one with the accumulation from music/kitchen/conversations/TVs, and the other just kitchen/conversations, and I will be able to "perform" better in the latter despite the volume levels being the same.

Something that does seem to work, though it's not done intentionally, is when restaurants are broken up into several different smaller areas. I know it's not aesthetic nowadays, but to sit in a room with only 5 other tables rather than 18 other tables is heaven.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:29 AM on June 20 [4 favorites]


Goodness yes, this is such a problem.

Also, this article is framed in terms of "accommodating disability". What about "causing disability"? It can also be seen as a labor issue, an OSHA issue.

I'm tempted to print off a stack of flyers that say something like

Thank you for this meal and your wonderful service. Did you know that loud noises can cause irreversible damage? Here is how loud the restaurant was:

db - how long causes damage
120 dB - 1 second
107 dB - 1 minute per day
101 dB - 4 minutes per day
95 dB - 15 minutes per day
92 dB - 30 minutes per day ----- THIS IS HOW LOUD IT WAS TODAY
86 dB - 2 hours per day
80 dB - 8 hours per day

If you would like to learn more about federal and state laws that protect you as a worker, please visit www.resource.com

posted by rebent at 10:24 AM on June 20 [12 favorites]


Also, this article is framed in terms of "accommodating disability". What about "causing disability"? It can also be seen as a labor issue, an OSHA issue.

Reminder: The first big domino toward banning smoking in most public enclosed spaces in the U.S. was flight attendants saying "We're stuck in here with this all the damn time." Even today, anti-smoking bills pass easier and with fewer exceptions when they're pushed by labor and waitstaff as workplace health and accommodation issues rather than on behalf of customers.
posted by Etrigan at 10:51 AM on June 20 [7 favorites]


Rebent, I'm actually tempted to go a step further and see if there's some app that checks decibels on my phone. And then when I'm seated, but before I order, I check the decibels - and if it's way loud, I show that to the waiter when he comes to take my order and say "before I do, this is a big noise issue, can you turn this down first?" And if they can't or won't, then I'll leave.

Instead of giving them my business and THEN telling them the place was too loud, I'd rather tell them that they LOST my business becuase the place was too loud.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on June 20 [4 favorites]




Empress I love the way you think, but that would be the last time my husband would ever let me take him to dinner!
posted by rebent at 11:09 AM on June 20


Being single has its privileges.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:10 AM on June 20 [8 favorites]


Please talk to the manager and not the waiter. They need to know the problem and should have the power to change it. The waitstaff doesn't always have that option.
posted by soelo at 1:33 PM on June 20 [6 favorites]


Good point, soelo, thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on June 20


I was recently at a kids museum/ activity space and saw a sticker for Kulture City, an agency that works to "create acceptance and inclusion for all individuals with unique abilities," with a focus on autistic kids. One of the aspects of their work is to help facilities and staff become sensory inclusive. Which is how I learned about how some with autism have a low threshold for sensory stimuli.

In short, making public spaces quiet has a broader benefit.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:09 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


...see if there's some app that checks decibels on my phone.

I have a free app on my Android phone called Physics Toolbox. It includes a sound meter and a bunch of other tools.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:39 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


I have a free app on my Android phone called Physics Toolbox.

You are my favorite person today. That app rocks! Thank you!
posted by Dashy at 8:41 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


I was finally impressed that Chipotle started putting in acoustic dampening in the ceilings. I kind of assumed the intent was "eat and get the hell out", and the eventual rationale wasn't "customers can hear", but more "the kitchen staff may sue us for hearing damages".
posted by talldean at 7:23 PM on June 28


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