he charity’s ‘Speak Easy’ campaign is calling on the catering industry to take action on background noise.
The online poll, that surveyed both people with and without hearing loss, showed that 81% of respondents had difficulty holding a conversation because of the high level of environmental noise. They were also united (91%) in saying that they will not make a return visit to a place where the noise levels were too high.
The high level of background noise, which includes noise made by other diners, noise from the kitchen and background music was also responsible for over a quarter (27%) of all respondents receiving the wrong order during a meal out. The problem is exacerbated by recent interior design trends that have seen venues employ industrial, minimalist aesthetics with lots of hard surfaces and high ceilings, which have led to increased noise levels due to a lack of furnishings that absorb sound.
Paul Breckell, Chief Executive at Action on Hearing Loss, says: “Through our campaign we want to help the restaurant, cafe and pub industry to create a more welcoming dining experience for all customers. Whether you’re out for a meal with friends, or if you’re on a date, you should be able to enjoy it without having to repeat yourself, raise your voice or receive the wrong order due to high levels of background noise.
There are 11 million people in the UK with hearing loss so, financially, it’s a no-brainer for the industry to help make dining out even more enjoyable and accessible. Three-quarters of people believe that restaurants, cafes and pubs have become louder in the last five years and we look forward to working with the catering industry to help take noise off the menu.”
Ben Hancock, Director of Oscar Acoustics, adds: “Having discussed the subject of acoustics with many restaurateurs, it seems that most are worried about losing the atmosphere in their venue and cannot see the larger picture or do not know that this can be calculated to a fine-art to retain the buzz. Online reviews are great but, unless everyone makes the effort, restaurateurs are not going to see a couple of complaints as an issue. We British are a funny bunch; quite often we will just not go back rather than make a fuss. I have found that those who call us have undertaken their own research following a suspicion that there may be a problem with the research confirming this with alarming results.
“There are few restaurants that take the subject seriously. Ottolenghi does, having installed acoustic spray-applied ceilings in both Ottolenghi Spitalfields and Nopi in Soho, with a new acoustically-treated restaurant in the planning. Both places are completely different with Ottolenghi Spitalfields opting for a feature textured finish at a depth that gives a beautifully relaxed feel. Nopi has chosen to have a completely smooth plaster-like finish to complement the design concept but gave the brief that it required a more ‘on the edge’ feel, enabling you to have a conversation over the table without leaning in, but retaining a huge amount of buzz. It was just a case of us building an acoustic model to tell us how thick to apply the finish. The results in both are great and they should be commended for taking the subject seriously. If you have ever tried to book an evening table in either, the wait suggests there is no shortage in diners wishing to visit. I’d like to take full credit, but the food is simply out of this world!”