My favorite restaurant recently underwent a big renovation. The place definitely needed an update, but I was crushed. This restaurant was my safe haven from noise. It was old-school Italian. It had carpeting, acoustic tiles, fancy white tablecloths and waiters from Italy. The food was outstanding and the environment was perfect — quiet.
Then they did the renovation. They removed the carpet and installed hardwood floors. They spiffed up the bar area, adding more hard surfaces, and swapped some of the cloth wall hangings for framed photos. I noticed the difference right away. The restaurant was now more visually appealing, but it was no longer quiet. Factor in my hearing loss, and this renovation has made dining out there quite challenging.
My favorite-restaurant experience highlighted for me the problems that anyone with hearing loss faces these days as restaurant noise levels rise, tables are pushed closer and closer together, and trendy glass and hardwood replace sound-absorbing carpet and cushioning. As I looked for a new favorite, I started thinking about what makes a restaurant good for people with hearing loss and how we can advocate for ourselves to make sure we get an acoustically friendly table.
Here are my tips for a successful experience when dining out with hearing loss.
- Don’t wait to tell the restaurant about your needs. When you call to reserve and make a reservation online, note your desire for a quiet table. Then remind the restaurant if they call to confirm. This gives the staff a better chance of meeting your needs than if you walk in cold. Always mention that you have hearing loss — this often gets more attention than simply requesting a quiet location. If they seat you at a less than ideal table at first, ask for a quieter spot.Persistence can pay off.
- Request a table in the corner. A corner table or, failing that, a location beside a wall works best since there is a barrier between you and the noise of the restaurant. You also won’t have distracting noise behind you and will find it easier to focus on the speakers at the table. A booth is also a good choice if it has high back seats.
- Choose restaurants with sound absorbing decor. Carpet, curtains, cushioned chairs, cloth tablecloths and acoustic tiles are ideal. Most restaurants have websites with photos, so you can preview the decor before you go.
- Sit outside. If the weather allows, enjoy dining al fresco, where the noise from other diners has more space to dissipate. You’re also less likely to experience loud background music. Of course, this doesn’t apply if the outdoor seating is near loud traffic.
- Eat early or late. If you can avoid the crowds, the din from other diners will be lower. You’ll also be more likely to get the table that you want. And restaurants can be more willing to lower the music during off-peak hours.
- Read online reviews. Many restaurant rating systems now include noise level as one of the criteria. For example, Zagat has a “Good for Quiet Conversation” search category. Yelp allows you to search for restaurant reviews that contain the word quiet. Simply type “quiet restaurants” into the Find area on the main screen. You can also Google any restaurant’s name plus “noise levels” to unearth reviews that discuss how loud the restaurant is or isn’t.
- Ask around. I like to trade restaurant tips with my hearing-loss friends and also with my hearing friends. Once you hit a certain age, everybody wants a quiet restaurant! Try asking on Facebook.
Readers, what tips do you have for dining out with hearing loss?
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the board of trustees of both the Hearing Health Foundation and Hearing Loss Association of America. You can find Shari on Facebook and Twitter.
A version of this article, “How To Choose A Restaurant When You Have Hearing Loss,” was first published on Shari’s blog Living With Hearing Loss.