New York City Restaurants Are Getting Noisier

New research shows NYC diners should fear for their ears

The New York Times recently measured noise levels at 37 restaurants, bars, stores, and gyms across the city and found noise levels deemed “dangerous” by experts at one-third of them. High rankers included The Brooklyn Star in Williamsburg, the Standard Hotel’s Biergartan, and Beaumarchais. Lavo the Midtown eatery, averaged up to 96 decibels over the course of an hour. That’s as loud as a power mower, which, by government standards, workers should not be exposed to for over three and a half hours without ear protection.

So what’s the perk of maintaining a restaurant that’s so loud, just communicating your order becomes a feat in and of itself? Well, some research suggests that people drink more when music is loud; others have found that people chewed faster when tempos were sped up. As a result, bars and restaurants are investing in finely tuned sound systems and even music designers, like Wyatt Magnum, who develops music programs for restaurants, bars, and hotels. His musical landscape increases in tempo and volume as the day goes on, peaking at cocktail hour. To him, 125 beats per minutes is the perfect tempo in the restaurant biz.

In addition, the trend of designing restaurants to look like brasseries and bars to look like speakeasies has led to a pervasion of hard surfaces that reflect and amplify sound like ceramic tiles, concrete floors, and tin ceilings.

Although The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulate workplace noise, it generally investigates only when complaints are lodged. However, this happens rarely in restaurants and bars. Though Zagat reported noise as one of the biggest dining pet peeves, all of the noise violations issued by OSHA in New York City in the 2011 fiscal years went to construction sites or factories and none went to restaurants, clubs or bars.

Curt Gathje, an editor at Zagat, has noticed New York restaurants getting louder over the past decade. “There’s a new generation that instead of going to nightclubs they go to restaurants, and nightclubs have sort of bled into restaurants. People don’t want to go to a place that seems dead,” he added. “Younger people feel they want some action.”

The worst news is for employees at these noisy establishments: Up to 30 percent of workers exposed to noise levels of 90 decibels or more over their working lifetimes can expect hearing loss. And the other thing: hearing damage accumulates over your lifetime. So once you have damage, it’s permanent. Though some wait staff and bartenders admitted that their hearing may be suffering a little from the job, a lot of the time they shrug it off, because oftentimes the same restaurant that is filling their ears with dangerously loud music is also filling their pockets with good pay.