Food is all of the rage these days, from celebrity chefs on the Food Network to competitions like Master Chef and The Great British Bake-Off. Dining out at the trendiest new restaurants has become one of our favorite things to do. It’s also a way to socialize with our friends and loved ones and reconnect. But is it fun if you can’t really hear your dining companions?
Publications from New York Magazine to The Daily Mail in the UK have noted the rise in volumes at popular restaurants in the past decade. According to New York Magazine, “Most restaurant scholars will tell you that the Great Noise Boom began in the late nineties, when Mario Batali had the genius idea of taking the kind of music he and his kitchen-slave compatriots listened to while rolling their pastas and stirring their offal-rich ragus and blasting it over the heads of the startled patrons in the staid dining room at Babbo…Sound systems were cranked up and suddenly noise became the hallmark of a successful New York restaurant.”
At the same time, Richard Vines of The New York Times talks about the Lombard Effect in restaurants: “Diners speak loudly in loud restaurants, and then the people at neighboring tables turn up the volume of their own speech in order to be heard.”
This could be daunting if you experience a hearing loss. Even with the use of hearing aids, the decibels in restaurants can grow overwhelming high. But, there’s no reason to give in and order delivery! Here we offer you a few tips for dining with hearing loss.
Make Sure Your Hearing Aids are Working
First and foremost, your hearing aids are your best friend when it comes to dining out. People with untreated hearing loss tend to avoid social situations in busy restaurants because the noise levels can be prohibitive to conversation. With hearing aids, however, you’ll be able to reconnect with your loved ones over a delicious meal. Many hearing aids are designed to reduce background noise and enhance speech at the same time. This feature allows you to focus on your dining companions rather than trying to hear over the noise.
Suggest a Quiet, Well-Lit Restaurant
Even with hearing aids, a loud restaurant can make communication difficult. As you’re making plans for dinner, be sure to communicate to your dining companions that you’d prefer a quieter ambiance. If you go out for dinner often, take note of restaurants that are quieter, with less background noise.
In recent years, restaurant design has moved toward minimal, industrial designs, with open kitchens. While the design is sleek, it could be difficult for people with hearing loss. Acoustics in these spaces tend to reverberate, and the voices of other diners may be amplified, interfering with your own conversations. Take note of restaurants that are smaller and cozier, with booths. High ceilings and hard surfaces tend to be louder. Lighting is also an important factor. Well-lit restaurants make it easier for you to see your dining companions, which could help with the conversation.
Securing the Right Seat
Call ahead of time and ask about the seating options available. If possible, choose a booth. Booths have great acoustics for people with hearing loss: they block out of some of the noise of the restaurant, and because they tend to be padded, sounds are less harsh.
Another great option is choosing a seat along the perimeter of the restaurant. Open restaurant designs tend to have tables running through the center of the space – these seats are the most challenging in terms of navigating background noise. If possible, secure a seat off to the side. Sit with your back to the wall, if possible. If your back is to a room full of other diners and restaurant noise, imagine how difficult it will be to hear your dining companions. While most hearing aids are equipped with features to lessen background noise, nothing beats a wall!
Some restaurants feature open kitchens. While these are fun, noise levels really rise near the kitchen. Between chefs shouting orders and the clanging of pots and pans, it may be difficult to hear what your friends are saying! Ask to be seated away from open kitchens.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
If your hearing aids are smartphone-compatible, you may activate a feature to help amplify speakers’ voices. Most smartphone-compatible hearing aids come with an app designed by the manufacturer. The app allows you to activate the microphone on your smartphone; place your smartphone near your dining companions where it can pick up their voices. Their amplified speech will be delivered directly to your hearing aids through a Bluetooth-enabled stream.
If you have questions about your hearing aids and related accessories, contact us at Advanced Tech Hearing. We’re here to help you hear your best.