Normal conversations are typically measured at 60 to 65 decibels. Compare that to recent measurements of popular New York City restaurants and you won’t feel so alone in thinking that it’s difficult to find a nice, quiet place to enjoy a meal. The New York Times reports that noise levels in such establishments can reach up to 99 decibels! That’s louder than if you were seated next to a lawnmower. Factor in any amount of dining out with hearing loss and maintaining normal conversations becomes nearly impossible.
While those measurements are extreme examples, we can generally agree that dining out with hearing loss can present a unique and uncomfortable experience if you aren’t prepared.
Choose a cozy spot
When in doubt, seek out restaurants with a cozy, intimate decor. Soundproofing features like carpeting, low ceilings, and wood paneling can do wonders for preserving conversation. When possible, choose a table near a wall or corner. These architectural attributes eliminate some, if not most, of the restaurant’s largest contributors of interfering sound: other diners. Not having to filter out conversations and ruckus coming from behind allows you to focus on the conversations happening in front of you with your dining companions.
Reading online reviews is a great way to do some investigations on a new spot’s ambiance. You’re not alone in having to factor hearing loss into your dining decisions; it’s a problem that affects a huge percentage of Americans. You can bet that plenty of reviews will note whether the noise level was conducive to quiet conversation, which is a great indicator of whether you should make a reservation.
Prepare your companion
If you’re fortunate enough to be dining with a close friend or partner, they’ll already be on board with seeking out a quiet place and they’ll also likely be prepared to modulate their own voice to create the easiest conversation possible. If they’re a new friend or an acquaintance, don’t be shy about referencing your own hearing difficulties from the start.
It’s just another thing about you, neither good nor bad. Think of it as a food allergy, an appropriate analogy in this scenario. No one would fault you for confiding your nut allergy to your dining companion or letting your server know about a shellfish allergy up front. It’s absolutely the same attitude to take when cluing someone in about your hearing loss.
Choose a seat with a full view of your party’s faces
Every person who deals with hearing loss dreads the large dining party reservation. And most of us will encounter it at some point or another. A smart strategy to pursue is by selecting a seat where you can see most, if not all, of your party’s faces. This greatly aids in filling in the blanks when you’re missed an auditory clue. For this purpose, round tables are certainly best because everyone gets a front seat. Watching people’s mouths and expressions can allow you to carry on normal conversation without feeling embarrassed about asking someone to repeat their statement or question.
You can always rope in some assistance, too. Make a joke of it and ask the person seated next to you to be your ‘translator’ for the evening. They’ll get the added bonus of spending a few hours helping someone out.
Dining out can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Living with hearing loss shouldn’t take that off the table for you. Note your preference for a quiet spot when you make your reservation or when you’re speaking with the restaurant’s host. At times, this might add to your wait for a table. But, remember that the host will want to accommodate you as best they can. It’s in the restaurant’s best interest for you to have a good experience, tell others, and return. Make your request known and use the extra time to grab an aperitif at the bar. Think of it as an homage to the golden age of the cocktail hour!
Asking to turn down the sound system is a tricky thing. Some restaurants pride themselves on their blaring soundtrack. When did a heavy metal theme become such a popular trend, anyway? It’s probably in your best interest to skip those places altogether. Or, if possible, go the outdoor seating route and choose the coziest, most tucked-away from the speakers seats available.
Many hearing aids offer features to amplify and elucidate speech in noisy environments. Contact us at Neighborhood Hearing Centers to learn about your options.