decibel measurement

Which Restaurants Are Way Too Loud (or Not)? Get Real Data and Share It!

By Kathi Mestayer

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Recently, I found myself in a restaurant that was so noisy, the waitress leaned over and told us, “I can’t hear in here, either!” So, it’s not just me. In fact, a 2015 survey by Zagat that found that noise in restaurants was listed as the top complaint by diners.

One of the more satisfying things I do in that situation is to get out the decibel app on my smartphone and take a measurement. Is it really that loud? The answer is usually yes! I’ve gotten decibel readings as high as 95 dBA (“dBA” refers to decibels adjusted for human hearing). So, I gripe politely to the wait staff or manager, and consider adding it to my “never again” restaurant list. Or I visit during off hours, at 3 p.m.

Then I discovered that there are decibel apps that allow you to share your data on how loud (or quiet!) the restaurant is! Here’s SoundPrint, which I have been using for a couple of years with great success (and whose founder wrote in the Spring 2019 issue of Hearing Health about the genesis for the app).

Here is how SoundPrint works:

1. Download the app from the site above.

2. When you want to take a decibel reading, take out your iPhone, open the app, and touch the “Start” button. Record the dBA level for at least 15 seconds.

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3. Then, hit “Stop.” 

4. To share the sound level at the restaurant/bar/coffeeshop, hit the “Submit” button. 

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5. That will take you to the “Your Location” screen, which will give you its best guess as to where you are. You can also enter the name of the venue into the field near the top. (It will be easier to find the venue if you have the “Locations” setting activated on your iPhone. You can turn it off again immediately, if you’re as paranoid as I am.)

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6. Select the venue and hit “Submit.” Your data will be on the SoundPrint site, without your name or any identification, for the rest of us to see. I’ve submitted data on places that are way too loud or nice and quiet. 

I just took a look, using the Search icon at the lower left of the iPhone screen, at Richmond, Virginia, where I live, and got a few hits! The red ones are way too noisy, orange is pretty noisy, yellow is a little noisy, and green is… quiet! The brown ones are venues that don’t have any data yet.

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Clicking “View details” got me to the address and phone number, and gives you the option of leaving a comment. Now, that said, if you go there and it’s loud, you can take another measurement and submit it, too. And you can add a comment for others to see.

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If SoundPrint users continue to add to the database, for places all around the country, and especially when places are quiet(ish), it results in such a wonderful shared resource! My favorite memory is of the time I was taking a decibel reading and the waitress was looking over my shoulder, very curious about what I was up to. I showed it to her, and hope she shared it with the manager.

Staff writer Kathi Mestayer serves on advisory boards for the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Greater Richmond, Virginia, chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

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