• =?UTF-8?Q?Why_restaurants_became_so_loud_=e2=80=94_and_how_to_fight?= =

    From a425couple@21:1/5 to All on Thu Apr 26 06:24:58 2018
    XPost: seattle.politics

    Why restaurants became so loud — and how to fight back
    “I can’t hear you.”
    By Julia Belluz@juliaoftorontojulia.belluz@voxmedia.com Updated Apr 25,
    2018, 10:11am EDT

    When the Line Hotel opened in Washington, DC, last December, the
    cocktail bars, gourmet coffee shops, and restaurants that fill its
    cavernous lobby drew a lot of buzz. Housed in a century-old church, the
    space was also reputedly beautiful.

    My first visit in February confirmed that the Line was indeed as sleek
    as my friends and restaurant critics had suggested. There was just one
    problem: I wanted to leave almost as soon as I walked in. My ears were
    invaded by a deafening din. I felt like a trapped mouse, tortured with
    loud sounds for the purposes of an experiment. The noise was so
    irritating, I asked my husband whether we should go before our drinks

    We ended up lingering for about half an hour at the Brothers and Sisters restaurant, straining to hear each other. On the way out, I tried to
    mention the tough acoustics to someone at the restaurant’s front desk. I don’t think he heard me.

    Housed in a former church, the Line Hotel in DC has beautiful soaring
    ceilings — and tough acoustics. Line Hotel/INC Architecture & Design
    This experience is by no means unique; it’s become a fixture of dining
    out in America. “What did you say?” “Can you repeat that?” and “It’s so
    loud in here” are now phrases as common as “Can I take your order?”

    Both Zagat and Consumer Reports surveys have found that excessive noise
    is the top complaint diners have, ahead of service, crowds, or even food issues. Tom Sietsema, the restaurant critic for the Washington Post,
    also told me noise is “by far” his chief complaint about the restaurants
    he reviews.

    “I’ve been harping on this for a decade by now,” he said. “It’s a constant — a constant irritation.”

    Help our reporting on noise pollution
    We’ll be following up with more reporting on noise pollution, and we
    want to hear from you. If you have any questions or stories to share, or you’ve been harmed by noise pollution, email reporter Julia Belluz at julia.belluz@vox.com.

    But here’s the thing: Loud restaurants aren’t just irksome — they’re a public health threat, especially for the people who work at or regularly patronize them. Being exposed to noise levels above 70 and 80 decibels — which many restaurants boast these days — causes hearing loss over time,
    Gail Richard, past president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, told me. This kind of hearing loss is “preventable, but
    it’s also irreparable,” she added.

    In reckoning with this underappreciated health threat, I’ve been
    wondering how we got here and why any well-meaning restaurateur would
    inflict this pain on his or her patrons and staff. I learned that there
    are a number of reasons — and they mostly have to do with restaurant
    design trends. In exposing them, I hope restaurateurs will take note:
    You may be deafening your staff and patrons. I also hope restaurant
    patrons will start, er, raising their voices about this, or voting with
    their feet.

    1) “No one wants to walk into a mausoleum”
    Everyone I spoke to for this story pointed out that some level of
    noisiness in restaurants is intentional — and you can thank (recently disgraced) celebrity chef Mario Batali for that.

    In a great New York magazine article about loud restaurants, Adam Platt
    points out that the “Great Noise Boom” in eateries started to flourish
    in the late ’90s, around the time Batali began pumping the music he and
    his kitchen staff enjoyed working to into the dining room at Babbo in
    New York. “Over the next several years,” Platt writes, “as David Chang and his legions of imitators followed Batali’s lead, the
    front-of-the-house culture was slowly buried in a wall of sound.”

    Batali has explained his penchant for loud restaurants: He feels the
    sound conveys a sense of vibrancy and energy, feelings diners associate
    with eating out in New York. So the raucousness is by design.

    Today, restaurants still use loud music to achieve that same dynamism.
    As Sietsema told me, “When I go around town to hot restaurants, they are
    all pretty noisy, for a lot of reasons, I think. But partly I blame it
    on restaurants, because you’re looking to create buzz or energy in
    dining rooms. No one wants to walk into a mausoleum.”

    Indeed, quiet restaurants can be as unwelcoming as noisy ones. Remember
    the awkwardly silent haunts you’ve walked into that feel limp, where you
    had little privacy to speak freely? You probably wanted to leave as
    quickly as I did from the ear-piercing hotel in DC.

    Still, there’s a difference between spirited, ebullient sound levels and ears-on-fire, screaming-over-the-table, lip-reading clamor — and many restaurants fail to strike the right balance. In a New York Times investigation, a reporter got a decibel reading at 37 venues across New
    York City, including bars and restaurants, and “found levels that
    experts said bordered on dangerous at one-third of them.”

    For this reason, Sietsema started carrying around a decibel meter (he
    also added sound ratings to his reviews) 10 years ago. Since then, he
    thinks restaurants have maintained a steady level of uncomfortable din.
    In other words, despite the years of complaining and awareness about the problem, it’s not getting any better.

    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.

    2) Good acoustics can be expensive
    I used to think acoustics were an overlooked feature of restaurant
    design in America. So I was surprised to learn that they’re among the
    first thing restaurateurs think about when planning a new restaurant.

    But doing acoustics right, it turns out, can be really expensive. You
    have to hire acoustic consultants or engineers, who case the geometry
    and surfaces of a space to figure out which materials and treatments
    might create a sound that’s pleasing to diners’ ears. Like any design
    and construction project, the more sophisticated you get, the more you
    drive up the cost.

    Despite its soaring ceilings, Union Square Cafe in New York City has a
    good sound reputation. The designers behind the restaurant, from the
    Rockwell Group, used carpeting and inserted sound-absorbing panels
    between the rafters to control the noise. Rockwell Group
    Greg Keffer, a partner with the Rockwell Group, an architecture and
    design firm, has worked on a number of restaurants with good reputations
    for acoustics, including Union Square Cafe in New York City. He noted
    that many common sound-controlling treatments — like spray-on foams or
    sound panels — “don’t look like a beautifully finished material.” So making sure your restaurant doesn’t feel or appear like a sound studio
    means investing in subtle sound-absorbing materials and treatments,
    which tend to be expensive.

    For example, a custom acoustical finish system like Fellert can
    masquerade as stone or concrete and tamp down noise levels — but it
    costs a lot more to put in place than just leaving a ceiling raw. Simply sound-paneling a big ceiling can cost upward of $50,000.

    “There are a lot of products that address acoustics now in a way that
    can be beautiful and can be hidden, so you’re not feeling like they’re surrounding you and can really complement your designs,” Keffer added.
    “But it’s ultimately down to budget and whether [restaurateurs] want to invest.”

    Most restaurants aren’t exactly minting money, so owners need to think
    about what they’re going to prioritize in the budget. Because good sound treatments don’t make the splash that beautiful chairs or special
    artwork do, they can easily get punted to the bottom of the list.

    “Sound absorption can cost a lot,” Sietsema said. “I can see chefs and restaurateurs thinking, ‘I can either buy these sound panels people
    aren’t going to notice visually or I can hire an extra line cook or
    piece of equipment or somebody to do my pastries.’ It’s certainly a trade-off.”

    3) A shift in restaurant aesthetics has had a huge impact on our ears
    Having said that, there are also low-cost techniques that can tamp down
    noise levels: carpets, table cloths, wall tapestries, drapes, plants.
    But they’ve mostly fallen out of fashion.

    Think about the last few trendy restaurants you visited. There’s a good chance at least one of them was housed in an industrial space, with
    minimally decorated brick or concrete walls, bare tables and floors,
    high ceilings, and exposed ducts. The explosion of new restaurants and
    the shift in aesthetics — down to the very spaces restaurants now
    commonly occupy — has fueled the restaurant noise boom.

    In a 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal, reporter Katy McLaughlin documented how the move toward eating in concrete boxes coincided with a
    shift in decor and other design features, turning many restaurants into “noise traps”:

    Upscale restaurants have done away with carpeting, heavy curtains,
    tablecloths, and plush banquettes gradually over the decade, and then at
    a faster pace during the recession, saying such touches telegraph a
    fine-dining message out of sync with today’s cost-conscious, informal diner.

    And as these sound-absorbing elements went out of style, many
    restaurants introduced open-concept dining, with open kitchens or
    attached bar scenes, that helped turn up the volume.

    As acoustically challenging as these settings have been for the ears of
    diners and restaurant workers, they’ve also been difficult for designers
    — which brings us back to the Line Hotel in DC.

    4) Some spaces — like former churches — will always be noisy when filled with people
    I called one of the designers on the Line Hotel project — Drew Stuart, a partner at Inc Architecture & Design — to ask him about what acoustics challenges he faced, and why the lobby was so loud. Stuart and his
    colleagues seem to have done everything right: They worked with an
    acoustics engineer “from day one,” he said, and looked top to bottom to find ways to control the sound.

    They built high-tech sound-absorbing finishes into the ceilings and
    underneath the tables. The floor was originally pitched at an angle.
    “When we flattened the floor, we put in an acoustically isolating floor system,” Stuart said.

    But the venue they were working with was really acoustically tricky. A
    former church, centered on a vast, open room with vaulted ceilings, it
    was created to be reflective, so that an entire congregation could hear
    the voice of the preacher with little amplification.

    “The [church] was designed for many to hear one,” Stuart added. “Now it’s been inverted so that many will hear the one across from them as
    opposed to the singular person addressing the room.”

    5) Americans are loud
    A final point about why restaurants are so loud. This has nothing to do
    with restaurateurs or designers or acoustic engineers. It has to do with Americans — who I believe are a slightly louder people, on average.

    As a Canadian working in the US, I am often struck by how much louder my
    fellow diners in restaurants seem to be, and how much more loudly the
    people I’m walking near on streets speak to one another or into their cellphones.

    This is not a scientific observation, but it’s one that’s fueled Reddit discussions and even a ban on “loud Americans” in a pub in Ireland. Sietsema, for one, also agreed with my view. “When Europeans imitate Americans, they shout,” he said. “We tend to be louder people — we’re louder talkers; we’re bigger with our expressions.”

    Economist Tyler Cowen mused about this article at his blog, Marginal Revolution, and posited six interesting hypotheses for American loudness:

    1. At least originally, Americans had much more space than did
    Europeans, and this is still true to some degree. That induce norms of loudness, which have to some extent persisted.

    2. America is a nation of immigrants, with English-language proficiency
    of varying quality, including historically. For whatever reason, good or
    bad, we tend to shout a bit when the listener is not fluent in our language.

    3. Taleb has suggested that higher status people shout less, talk in
    more hushed tones, and are more likely to whisper, to grab the attention
    of the crowd. Perhaps America has fewer high status people to set social
    norms. Or perhaps our high status people derive status from their
    wealth, and feel the need to emit fewer cultural signals, just as
    wealthy Americans often dress more poorly or eat a worse diet than
    European elites.

    4. Characters on TV speak more loudly, and Americans watch more TV and
    admire and mimic it more.

    5. Americans command a broader personal space, keeping a greater
    distance, and thus they have to speak more loudly to each other (and
    they feel Italians are intrusive with respect to how close they stand).

    6. Loudness is perhaps a byproduct of individualism.

    7. American culture values “forthrightness and self-confidence.” Plus
    maybe it’s a regional thing?

    For fellow diners who aren’t used to American decibel levels, this
    noisiness can be particularly irritating — and it has been for me. One
    night at a pizza place in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, I tried to
    compete with the howling of a woman at a neighboring table and felt
    myself screaming at my friends.

    This factor, perhaps driving the noise in restaurants here, can’t be controlled for, but there are other things diners can do to protect

    How to protect yourself from the noise
    There is some consolation for restaurant-goers who cringe at the
    cacophony. A couple of recent developments may make dining out more

    At least at the high end, noise levels may be going down in restaurants. According to Devra Ferst at Eater:

    In the decade since loud restaurants have become ubiquitous, small to mid-sized, casual restaurants — often with less backing — still embrace
    and work around the din, while a new generation of fine-dining and
    higher-end places with deep pockets are going back to if not a hushed
    dining room, one that allows for across the table conversation.

    These restaurants have reintroduced noise-blotting carpets and
    tablecloths — and they’re making quiet dining a luxury for those who can afford to pay, Ferst writes. Hopefully this trend trickles down through
    all rungs of the restaurant population.

    Decibel-reading apps have also proliferated. Some, like SoundPrint,
    crowdsource users’ decibel readings to rate venues so that people who
    are hard of hearing or sensitive to noise,can find quiet spots. (In DC,
    for example, I found some popular restaurants with sound levels below 70 decibels, according to the crowdsourcing, and others that were “very
    loud,” over 80 decibels.) The NIOSH Sound Level Meter also allows you to measure sound in restaurants or your workplace.

    Since I downloaded a decibel reader, I’ve checked the sound in coffee
    shops, at the gym, in restaurants, even on the metro. It’s given me a
    sense of the relative loudness of various environments and which ones I
    might want to avoid.

    I also returned to the Line Hotel for a sound check. I found the noise
    less bothersome this time. The lobby’s bars and restaurants were pretty
    empty — about half as crowded as during my first visit, which coincided
    with the hotel’s opening months. But the sound still registered just
    above 80 decibels. (This is similar to what SoundPrint users have found,
    rating the Line’s Brothers and Sisters lobby restaurant a “loud” 79.)

    My reading of a Line Hotel lobby bar’s decibel level.
    There are even simpler things you can do to avoid loud restaurants or
    manage noise while you’re out:

    Go early: This one isn’t very fun. Who wants to eat at 5 pm? But if
    noise really bothers you, restaurants tend to be less heavily trafficked
    — and therefore quieter — before 7 o’clock.
    Request a quiet table: Not all tables are equal. If you’re seated in
    what you think is a particularly loud spot, ask to move. You can also
    request a quiet table in advance.
    Ask for the music to be turned down: If you feel the music is blaring in
    your ears, there’s a good chance others do too. Ask for it to be turned
    Complain: If restaurant managers field enough complaints about the
    noise, they may understand that they’re doing something wrong. Consider registering a complaint with management before you leave.
    Find your noise nirvana: If you know of a restaurant with decibel levels
    that please your ears, keep going. If you’re having trouble finding your noise nirvana, try SoundPrint to search restaurant venues by sound level.
    I’d also urge restaurant owners to get a decibel reader to find out how
    much they might be torturing their patrons. Together, perhaps we can
    defeat the Great Noise Boom.

    Help our reporting on noise pollution
    We’ll be following up with more reporting on noise pollution, and we
    want to hear from you. If you have any questions or stories to share, or you’ve been harmed by noise pollution, email reporter Julia Belluz at julia.belluz@vox.com.


    --- SoupGate-Win32 v1.05
    * Origin: fsxNet Usenet Gateway (21:1/5)