Restaurant noise levels on the rise

Silence is golden! Excessive noise can ruin a good meal.

By Jeremy Ryland


Did you know that Gault&Millau take a reading of noise levels when reviewing a restaurant? The reading of noise levels are factored into the restaurant's final score. A reading above 65 decibels is considered “noisy” and the majority of restaurants are well above 70 decibels. Some are in the high 80’s and 90’s, meaning that the majority are noisy. If you wish to check yours, there are some good free apps for iPhone and Android including Decibel Meter and Decibel X.


Some restaurant noise levels are the equivalent of diners enduring lawn mowers, power drills, heavy traffic and whirring blenders whilst trying to enjoy their meals. Sustained durations of 90 decibels of noise levels result in hearing damage. These are levels where employers must issue sound protective safety equipment to workers and many restaurants showed levels in excess of this figure. In fact, in 2011 Safe Work Australia received a submission from Restaurant and Catering Australia that said because “average noise levels in restaurants range between 50 and 90 decibels”, the acceptable standard for noise levels in the workplace should be lifted from 85 decibels to 100 decibels”.

Would you like a side order of hearing loss with that?


Research has shown that significant levels of background noise can affect the flavour of a meal, reducing a person’s ability to detect salt and sweet foods.


Some sounds can be beneficial. All of our senses - taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound - combine to contribute to our enjoyment when we eat and drink. And sound is part of this. When we eat food, we actually listen to the crunch – if you cannot hear the crunch of a potato crisp or corn chip, it will taste stale!  Heston Blumenthal produced a delicate seafood dish called “Sound of the Sea”, where he supplies ear pods playing the sounds of the ocean, which intensify the experience of a seafood dish. Even the choice of music can enhance a meal.


And of course, most restaurant owners like a certain noise level in their restaurants to create atmosphere. Quiet restaurants, according to some, are solemn and not necessarily a great dining experience.


But too much can be a bad thing. Excessive noise cannot only affect our flavour perceptions but also make it difficult to talk to one another and even make it difficult to give your waiter an order. As the restaurant fills with diners, the noise levels rise and we raise our voices to be heard. The sound waves bounce around, particularly on hard surfaces, creating a cacophony of conversations, scraping chairs, clinking cutlery and background music that no one is listening to. Excessive noise can be uncomfortable, especially for people with hearing aids, for autistic children and others with noise sensitivities.  And sustained excessive noise can cause hearing loss. This is especially significant for the staff working in the venues who are exposed to the high noise levels every day – and may be why the waiter cannot hear your order!

WorkCover Queensland advice


WorkCover Queensland advises restaurant owners to get the balance right between a good dining experience and acceptable levels of noise for their staff and their customers, and provide the following tips on how restaurant owners can dampen noise.


  • · Physical barriers break up soundwaves and reduce the overall noise levels.
  • · Line walls with materials that absorb sound rather than leaving them bare.
  • · Use sound absorbing materials on the ceiling or use sound absorbing drop ceilings if the ceilings are high.
  • · Fabrics and soft furnishings within the restaurant will absorb noise.
  • · Reduce the level of any music that you may be playing during service.
  • · Install soft floor coverings where people walk and add rubber caps to chair legs.


For more information on the hazards and dangers of noise, visit the WHSQ website.


And as an aside – I was recently in a Coles supermarket, where they have Quiet Hour every Tuesday from 10:30 am to 11:30 am. Currently, 173 Coles stores dim the lights, turn down the music, turn off the PA announcements and reduce all noise distractions, designed to assist parents with autistic children. It is actually a very positive experience for everyone. Silence is golden!