The “Yelp” for Noisy Restaurants

Dining out in a noisy restaurant can be a tiring and frustrating experience when you have hearing loss. Even with the help of hearing aids, having a one-on-one conversation through the thick layers of noise, background music, kitchen sounds and myriad conversations in a busy restaurant is a challenge. Fortunately, there’s a new app that can help you find the most peaceful spots in your city for a date night, a quick drink, an afternoon coffee or a dinner out with friends.

In a recent New Yorker article, Patricia Marx interviewed Gregory Scott Farber about SoundPrint, an app he created which helps users to locate the quietest places in their cities. The app, which Farber describes as the “Yelp for noise”, also allows users to upload their own decibel readings of the places they frequent, and these recordings contribute to a sound database of the quietest and noisiest venues in cities all over the U.S.

About the project

Farber, who is 42 years old, is a research analyst and non-practicing lawyer who has been living with hearing loss since he was a baby, when a bout of meningitis caused permanent damage to his hearing. He initially created the app out of a desire to find places where he could go on quiet dates; in other words, places where he could actually hear his conversation partner. As he began to take decibel recordings and delve deeper into the project, he realized how loud restaurants and bars have become, and just how necessary it is to be able to find quiet spots.

“When I was dating, I put a lot of effort into trying to pick quiet spots,” he said. “I’d Google ‘quiet restaurants.’ Then I would show up, and it would be blaring.” His hearing aid made things easier, but it was still too loud to carry on a conversation in many of the places he found himself. After he started making decibel measurements, he sent a list of his favorite quiet locations to friends in the hearing-loss community. He was soon receiving numerous requests for more information. “My normal-hearing friends wanted the list, too,” he said.Farber launched the SoundPrint app last April. As it produces no revenue, he funds it himself– but it is growing in popularity. SoundPrint currently covers approximately 2,000 cities, though only 15 of those cities have a large number of users. In a recent analysis of his data, Farber was surprised at the noise levels he was seeing in many restaurants and bars. Over 70 percent of restaurants and 90 percent of bars rated as “loud” (between 76 and 80 decibels) or “very loud” (80 decibels and above). The study also revealed that Chinese, Indian and Japanese restaurants are the most hushed, while Mexican restaurants are the loudest.

A few tips for better hearing in restaurants: 

  1. Ask for a quiet table in advance. If your dinner plans involve a restaurant that takes reservations, request a quiet table when you call, and remind the staff of this request if they call to confirm your reservation. Tables that tend to be quieter are those located in a corner or against a wall, rather than in the middle of the room where background noise surrounds you on all sides. If you find that the table they give you is too noisy, ask to be moved to a quieter spot. It pays to be persistent when it comes to your hearing needs.
  2. Don’t sit near the kitchen. You may not always have a choice–let’s face it, popular restaurants get busy and sometimes it’s necessary to find a table anywhere you can. But if you have the option, try to sit farther away from the kitchen, as the cacophony of shouted orders and clattering dishes will make it harder for you to hear your companion.
  3. Go for restaurants with sound-absorbing features. This includes: carpet, carpeted walls (these are the best!), curtains, cushioned chairs, cloth tablecloths and acoustic tiles. Good bets are classic restaurants with an old-fashioned design, as many modern eateries favor hard, sound-reflective surfaces like concrete, glass and wood. Indian and Ethiopian restaurants are often quieter thanks to an abundance of tapestries and cushions.
  4. Do your research first. Read online reviews, ask your friends, and download the user-friendly SoundPrint app to find out if your city has a list of “Quiet Places” yet. Most people enjoy being able to carry on a quiet conversation while they eat, not just the hard of hearing.
  5. Don’t forget to wear your hearing aids! This one probably goes without saying, but making sure your hearing aids are fully charged is an essential part of being able to enjoy dining out with friends. The hearing devices on the market today come packed with features that make it easier to hear in public places, such as background noise reduction, better directionality (being able to hear where sound is coming from) and speech acuity. So, don’t forget these essential tools!
If you are struggling to hear conversations over background noise, it may be the first sign of a hearing loss. To ensure your best hearing health, contact us at Audibel for a consultation and hearing exam.