Noise Levels and Certification for “Ear-Friendly” Restaurants

One of the main customer complaints that busy restaurants face is the noise level in their establishments. Zagat’s 2016 Dining Trend Survey revealed that your patron’s number one “irritant” was service, which came in at 28 percent, followed closely by 25 percent complaining about the noise level. In cities such as New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and Portland, OR, diners cite noise as their chief complaint.


Decibels in Restaurants

We measure sound by decibel (dB) levels. A typical restaurant comes in at about 80 dB. In order to carry on a normal conversation, the sound level requires 55 to 65 dB. At 75 dB, conversation becomes difficult and, at 85 dB, damage to the hair cells in the inner ear can lead to permanent hearing loss.

Approximately 40 million Americans now suffer from hearing loss with one in three people over 65 years of age experiencing disabling hearing loss.



As more and more people become aware of the lasting effects of noisy environments, media and technology are stepping up to address the issue, or at least provide insight and information as to the establishments that are taking steps to tackle this growing concern.

The San Francisco Chronicle is publishing the decibel level of restaurants in the Golden Gate City. If your restaurant is given “two bells” it means that the decibel range is 65 to 70 and your patrons can hold a conversation with relative ease. At “four bells” or 75 to 80 dB, your customers can only talk in raised voices, and at 80-plus dB or the “Bomb,” attempts at holding a normal conversation are for naught. 

The iHEARu app was created by Dr. Kelly Tremblay, a neuroscientist and audiologist. This free app turns your Smartphone into a decibel measuring device. The information is then collected and made public so that those seeking a quieter ambience can find it. This same doctor founded Lend an Ear, an organization committed to creating an “ear-friendly world.” In addition to providing tools and resources for those looking to protect their hearing, or live with hearing loss, they also provide consulting services to those business interested in creating a low-decibel environment.

Recently, Lend an Ear has introduced a certification program for “ear-friendly” restaurants. The first restaurant to receive this certification was Mozzeria, a pizzeria whose owners are deaf. For a restaurant to become certified, they must offer one or more of the following:

  • An environment that has made an effort to reduce noise levels using building materials that absorb sound and table placement that ensures an ease of conversation.
  • Willingness to turn down the volume on background music when asked.
  • Identified by the iHEARu app as ear-friendly.


Tips for Reducing Noise Levels

While it may seem nearly impossible to reduce noise levels in some establishments without narrowing an already tight profit margin, there are some steps you can take that can make a surprising difference. This includes the following:

  • Consider the placement of machinery such as your ice machine. A roof-mounted condenser can help to minimize the noise emitted when compressors go off and on.
  • Sound bounces off hard surfaces. To reduce this effect, consider installing material that absorbs sound. This includes art acoustic panels, fabric-wrapped foam, acoustic partitions, and hanging baffles. These materials can be used on ceilings as well as walls. Install carpet in high-use areas. If your restaurant is under construction or your considering replacing the floor, an acoustic flooring—a rubberized membrane—can be placed under the tile, stone or wood.
  • Consider installing soundproof kitchen doors and acoustic partitions around side-stations.
  • Glass also reflects sound. Curtains or secondary acoustic windows can help block this type of sound.

Understanding how the noise level effects a restaurant’s ambiance and customer satisfaction can prompt busy restaurateurs to take necessary action. Though not always an easy fix, little steps can be taken that will make a definite difference. For those restaurants interested in Lend an Ear’s certification program, more information can be found at or



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