If your hearing is impaired, you are familiar with the struggle to hear not just in the quiet of your home but especially in noisy environments. Restaurants pose special challenges. They are often filled with loud noise that comes from all directions and creates an ambient din that makes it difficult to hear the conversations of the people with whom you are dining. There are hearing aids such as the Oticon Opn that distinguish between speech and noise. If you are not wearing one, you may be interested in a new mobile app that indicates restaurant noise levels.
The mobile app is called SoundPrint and it can be downloaded through iTunes1. It is a collaborative collection of sound levels, commonly known as “citizen science,” amassed by diners. In a nutshell, people with the app record noise levels in restaurants using the built-in decibel reader. They then submit the sound levels to the app then titling/categorizing them by restaurant name. The list of restaurant noise levels can be accessed by other app users (like you). In other words, the app is a crowd-sourced collection of restaurant decibel levels.
You could say the app’s day has come. People rate noise levels in restaurants as the most annoying factor they have to deal with when dining out. The latest Zagat National Dining Trends Survey2 found that 24% of survey respondents rated noise as the most bothersome irritation followed by service (23%), crowds (15%) and high prices (12%).
Greg Scott developed the app. He says increasing noise levels at New York City restaurants, where he lives, motivated him to create SoundPrint. He wanted to hear the people he was dating and communicate with them. Online searches didn’t help him find quiet restaurants. “So, I started taking out a decibel meter because I wanted to see how loud the venues were.” He found that noise levels in most restaurants didn’t easily allow conversation. Then he developed the app to share the information and allow others to contribute to the gathering of decibel levels.
High noise levels not only impact the ability to socialize with our friends at a restaurant, they can also impact the choice of meal selections. A research study reported by Food and Wine Magazine3 found that “since volume has been proven to impact heart rate and arousal, softer music’s calming effect makes diners more conscious of what they order, resulting in a healthier meal. On the other hand, louder music increases stimulation and stress which drives unhealthy comfort food choices.”
The study was conducted in a café in Stockholm, Sweden. Menu items were marked as either “healthy”, “non-healthy” or “neutral.” There were 549 items sold during the study; 295 were sold while softer music played and 254 were sold while louder music played. Here’s what researchers found:
- 20% more customers ordered unhealthy items while louder music played
- The number of non-healthy items sold while loud music played jumped by 10%
It appears that finding restaurants with low noise levels is not only better for conversation, it’s better for your health, as well. Other apps, (both available through iTunes), that can help determine noise levels are:
- NIOSH Sound Level Meter4
- Decibel X Pro: dBA Noise Meter5
Dining out at a restaurant with loved ones or friends can be made difficult by high noise levels. The ability to find a quiet restaurant can significantly improve the experience and greatly reduce frustration caused by the inability to hear. Now that we know a quieter restaurant may also lead to healthier food choices, there are many positive reasons to use a noise level app.