Dining out with hearing loss — why it’s so noisy and what you can do

Restaurants are meant to be enjoyable, right? Time off from cooking and a chance to connect with others over tasty entrees makes dining out feel like an instant celebration. But just like that, loud background noise can take the fun out of it — particularly if you have hearing loss.

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Straining to hear loved ones over others at the nearby table
  • Raising your voice over blaring music and nodding to pretend you understand the response
  • Imagining the story you think you heard over the noise — and hoping you aren’t asked about it

If so, you’re not alone. Background noise can be a battle if you’re hard of hearing (or not). It not only can make it difficult to connect with others, but also may cause further damage to your hearing. And it definitely doesn’t help that restaurants have become louder over the years.

Thankfully, there are ways you can make hearing and understanding easier in noisy restaurants while protecting your hearing. But before we get to that, let’s explore why restaurants are getting louder in the first place.

Why are restaurants so loud these days?

Restaurants have become increasingly louder for reasons ranging from interior design choices to the quest for bigger profits:

  • Sparse minimalist interior
    Following a trend that began over two decades ago, many restaurants boast high exposed ceilings, hard surfaces (like wood, slate, and concrete), and very few soft furnishings. Sure, this may look cool — but without curtains, carpet, or upholstery to absorb sound, it’s also a recipe for reverberation and echo.

    Adding to the noise are communal tables that seat multiple parties together without any insulation in-between. Additionally, open kitchens contribute to the clamor with loud, clanking pots and hollers of, “Order up!”
  • Merging of restaurants and bars
    Open-plan restaurants with full-service bars and sit-down dining in the same space is another custom that is notorious for generating noise. With nothing to separate the liveliness of the bar, noise cannot help but be carried over to the traditional dining area.
  • Attempt at “fun” atmosphere
    It’s not unusual for restaurant owners (and patrons, for that matter) to associate loud music and chatter with a fun, lively atmosphere that will attract customers. So, some choose to design their restaurant to generate noise right from the blueprint.

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Repeated noise exposure can cause more hearing loss

Communication struggles aren’t the only issues noisy restaurants can cause. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, repeated exposure to high noise levels can cause even further damage to your hearing over time.

How loud is too loud? Noise levels are measured by units called decibels (dB). Normal conversation is about 60 dB – so, that’s considered safe.

But any noise above 70 dB over an extended period can begin to damage your hearing. (For further perspective, really loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate damage to your hearing. But this would occur in more extreme cases like standing near sirens, says the CDC.)

Sound meter apps help find quieter venues — and can protect hearing

So, how do you know if you’re chomping your cheeseburger in harmful noise levels? That’s surprisingly easy: Head to your smartphone’s app store and download a sound meter app like SoundPrint. This app can show you the decibel level of any venue you’re in. You can then submit the measurement to SoundPrint’s database, which allows you and other users to browse and find quieter venues wherever you are. Cheers to that!

Hearing aids and other dining out tips

Sound meter apps are just one of many ways to help make hearing and understanding at restaurants easier. You can also find great tips for dining out with hearing loss here.

Overall, hearing aids are one of the best ways to stay connected to others in restaurants — or anywhere else with background noise. Whether you’re thinking about getting your hearing evaluated by a licensed hearing care professional or would like to upgrade your current devices, the all-new Genesis AIs are definitely worth considering.

Genesis AI hearing aids not only provide true-to-life sound quality but are also designed to “fill in” the sound gaps whenever your hearing is impaired. With over 80 million personalized adjustments every hour, Genesis AI can help you hear better — from entree at the swanky bistro to dessert at the local diner — without you having to do a thing.

And for those times when your favorite eatery unexpectedly becomes louder, you can access speech clarity and reduce background noise on demand with the Edge Mode+ feature —available by linking your Genesis AI hearing aids to the My Starkey hearing aid app.

Hungry for more ways to enjoy dining out with hearing loss? Just ask your hearing care professional. Don’t have one yet? Type your zip code in here to find a provider near you.


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By Starkey Hearing