Are restaurants too loud?

In a previous thread I was lamenting on how the audio tracks in movies have gotten way too loud, mainly due to the full-blast background music.

This morning I read this article on how the minimalist trends in decor have made some restaurants unbearably loud. I wholeheartedly agree.

The loudest restaurant I have ever been to was a Buffalo Wild Wings in Springfield, OH. The place was packed, and a dozen TVs were on. Zero sound absorption on the walls and ceiling. I am not exaggerating when I say you could not have a conversation with the person sitting directing in front of you. We quickly ate then left. Haven’t been back since.

Restaurants come in every possible shape and size, I’m not sure how we can generalise. I avoid chains and favour independent small bistros. Sound isn’t a problem in those.

There was an article about this in Vox a few months ago Why restaurants became so loud — and how to fight back.

Last year I went for the second time to a restaurant in Sydney with the guys from work. The first time I had remarked how loud it was so and been mocked I took my sound pressure meter and checked it a few times. The ambient level was generally 85 - 92dB, about the level of traffic noise on a busy roadway. With my decrepit hearing, that means I can’t really hear the person opposite me at a table.

I suspect the key reason is this, from the article don’t ask posted:

“There’s at least one other potential explanation for that: Noisy spaces may increase turnover, and there’s some evidence that they do encourage people to drink more and faster. So despite the discomfort and annoyance the noise causes for some people, it may still be good for the bottom line.”

I went to restaurant with a friend and we were having our usual serious conversations about various things, at the end of dinner and able to hold a normal level conversation when suddenly a house band came on stage and started blaring their music. I immediately wanted to leave, but my friend insisted we stay.

I like restaurants that aren’t so quiet as you can make out everyone’s individual conversations, but no so loud that you have to speak above a normal tone of voice. Ideally, I enjoy being able to have a five across conversation, being able to speak to the second person sitting next to you on either side.

And OMG! Parent’s please leave your babies with a sitter! Especially at anything above a casual dining restaurant. Nothing ruins a meal for me quicker than a screaming baby! I’ve walked out a few times when a table farther away from the little screamer wasn’t available.

I appreciate that the Washington Post includes the noise level in its restaurant reviews.

The Starbucks in town sometimes plays music at an obnoxiously loud volume. That, combined with the afternoon sun glaring into the window, makes it difficult to relax at times.

They also got rid of the four most comfortable chairs, which sorta makes me suspect that high turnover and low comfort is exactly what they’re going for.

My “old people ears” make understanding conversation against a lot of background noise more and more difficult. This has really made dining out during busy hours a trial. Fortunately, I have a schedule that is offset from the most common 9 to 5 routines but it makes eating at home more and more attractive.

I certainly like a little bit of ambience, particularly when there aren’t that many people in the restaurant. The problem seems to be that they forget to adjust the noise when more diners come in.

I avoid restaurants that are loud. I don’t care how good the food is: if I can’t have a conversation with someone, there’s no point in dining out. If I’m at a bar alone, OTOH, maybe a little bit of loudness isn’t an issue for me.

Yes and it wasn’t like this. My own take and several posters have hit upon some of these points, is that the style of the restaurants have changed to hard surfaces for a clean modern look, also with that is a more open style much like the open concept of homes. Also I believe they follow the airline model of cramming more tables in the they used to, so more people closer together. More people closer together normally causes everyone to have to speak louder. The profit motive of higher turnover rates as people rush a bit helps with that too. And to the Millenniums loud restaurants is their normal, it’s what they know and don’t know that it could be otherwise and may even feel awkward in a quite one.

I figured this was also the plan at Chipotle (in the days when I still got food there, before their food handling practices went, um, viral).

If it’s not restaurant design, it’s the patrons yelling and playing crap on their cellphones. Maybe that doesn’t happen at Le Bistro Pretentieux, but is common enough at the joints where I eat.

Like Broomstick, I tend to go to restaurants in non-prime time. I do wonder how much of the noise annoyance is geographic, particularly within the US. In my area, sports and all things sports reign supreme. An average, non-upscale, middle of the road “American” restaurant that does not have televisions blasting sports events on every wall is rare. The upside of our escape from forced sports dining is that we’ve discovered some wonderful Thai, Chinese and Polish restaurants.

“If its too loud, you’re too old” - Ted Nugent

Generally, I agree that I don’t like really loud restaurants but I don’t think any type of restaurant has gotten louder in the last 30 years. The sports bars have always been loud and the fine dining experiences are generally quiet. That just means I spend more of my time out going for fine dining and less with loud drunks eating hot wings.

Back around 10-15 years ago, I thought Chili’s was too loud to even hear conversation. Now I don’t think it is, I think they turned down the volume. What I do think is too loud is Five Guys: it wouldn’t be too loud if I were with people because I’d still be able to hear conversation, but it is otherwise so quiet that the only thing I can hear is the loud music and I don’t have anyone to talk with when I go there, which is not often, due to the music.

If you are looking for atmosphere, a sports bar is NOT the place to find it. “BWW” is inhabited by a lot of young people partying and watching sports. It’s a boisterous place. Another is “Tilted Kilt” and yet another is “TGIF”. You have to select appropriate places for the kind of atmosphere you want.

The inclusion of noise levels is becoming more common in reviews. I just checked and found noise levels included in the reviews in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle.

I agree. I think of those places as sports bars, and would expect loud sports broadcasts. Even Applebee’s is working on creating that fun, loud atmosphere. It’s cool, if you like lots of noise and sports. It’s exciting, even if the food is terrible.

In my area, the sports “ambiance” has drifted into an old local favorite steak house and a seafood place that had wonderful fish and chips. We’ve stopped going there. Forced out of our comfort zone, seeking quiet dining, we’ve discovered some fine ethnic places. Ethiopian is my newest favorite.

Not just yes, but HELL YES.

And I do not heap all the blame on the restaurateur; people are too damn loud. Whatever happened to quiet conversations over candle lit food?

ETA: I’m not talking about Applebees/Chilis/Sports Bars. I’m talking about* real *restaurants.

Maybe I just don’t eat out a lot, am deaf, or just happen to go to places that are quieter, but this is actually not something I have noticed. Most places I go to don’t even have music playing.

The food courts in the mall are even worse at times. Completely hard surfaces everywhere. The mall near me remodeled their food court and now at least it has a dropped ceiling made of slats that let some of the sound go up above them. I went there once and they had a live band playing, oh, come on! I left.


I eat out all the time. The only restaurant I find too loud is Texas Roadhouse.