/ Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure

Had enough of the festive din?

Blurred restaurant

As Christmas gets closer, it’s not just the festive cheer that’s on the rise – noise levels are ramped up too. Are you getting fed up with all that din? You’re certainly not alone. Johanna from Action on Hearing Loss joins us as a guest author to explain how to get your voice heard…

Earlier this year a survey carried out by Action on Hearing Loss found that three-quarters of us would go out more if we knew we’d actually get to have that cosy chat with our companions, and 91% of us never go back to a noisy venue.

Done with the din

In response, this summer we launched Speak Easy, a campaign asking restaurants, cafés and pubs to ‘take noise off the menu’.

But despite millions across the UK wanting to dine out in quieter venues, the industry has been slow to acknowledge that there’s a problem or to engage with the campaign.

There appears to be a perception that a loud restaurant is a successful restaurant – and as long as customers put up with the barrage of sound, the industry will continue to believe it’s getting it right.

The buzz is getting out of hand and we want to help you to send a clear message to the industry. So, we’ve put together some useful materials for diners across the UK to use over the festive season, and beyond.

So next time you’re out with your friends and family you can use discreet feedback cards to leave with your bill.

Or if you’re feeling like making more of a statement you can always use an attention-grabbing thumb prop – just like Nutritionist Jeanann (below) has done for a branch of Giraffe restaurants.

JeanannPropInsideGiraffe

Jeanann awarded the restaurant a ‘thumbs down’ after a strained attempt to catch up with a friend:

‘With the coffee machines hissing and chairs scraping the floor, trying to hear my friend was like making sense of a badly tuned radio station. Concrete floors and high ceilings may create a modern look, but unfortunately it only adds more background noise.’

Getting voices heard

Repeat customers are important to restaurants, cafes and pubs, so we’re hoping that if enough of us tell the industry that the noise levels are turning us off, the industry will find it harder to ignore us.

And to make doubly sure that your voice is heard, if you do choose to give restaurants the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ on social media – then make sure you tag the relevant venue, and put them in the public spotlight.

Have you recently spent the evening fuming and fed up at a Christmas pub lunch? Or have you been pleasantly surprised on a recent night out? Which restaurants get a ‘thumbs down’ from you?

This is a guest contribution by Johanna Taylor from Action on Hearing Loss. All views are Johanna’s own and not necessarily those shared by Which?.

Comments
Member

While I’d want to see the demo for the survey responders I agree totally that when we go out we prefer quiet places. Eating out can be noisy, but some background is useful, since otherwise when the troughs are filled the audible accompaniment can be less than decorous.

But overall I was thinking how much less ‘artificial’ noise there is these days. Those whose umbilical cords to loud music have never been severed now seem content to be insulated from reality through their ear buds and iPods; certainly, it’s probably made travel on public transport that bit quieter.

Member

When I was young I did not enjoy noisy parties. One reason was that I could not make out what others were saying. When I have attended functions with a meal followed by a disco I head for a quiet corner and I’m rarely alone. Nowadays I notice that loud music sounds more like noise than music and suspect that this is why older people have a reputation for disliking loud music. Otherwise, my hearing seems fine. Maybe by having avoided loud music it might stay that way.

Member

I have slight hearing loss and find it near impossible to make out conversations in busy restaurants/bars. A few years back, I had ‘hearing therapy’ at my local ENT. Their advice was to try to find tables where the lighting is good and you can sit in a corner with your back to the wall. That helps, as does sitting (or standing, if in a bar/pub) with your back to the noise.

Member

That’s not entirely the best advice, in fact Mel; sitting close to a wall is where bass frequencies have the greatest energy, so the hearing loss can be aggravated, especially in corners. Facing away from the sound is excellent advice.

Design has a lot to do with this, of course. The current penchant for hard surfaces all meeting at 90o also amplifies and ‘muddies’ the sound. Curved surfaces absorb it, as do soft furnishings and strategically placed shelves and planks .

Member

Ah! That’ll be why I still can’t hear, then. 😩 Thanks, Ian.

Member

There must be many perplexing conversations at noisy parties where, to appear to participate, people will utter “yes”, “no”, “oh really” and nod or shake their heads despite not having heard what was being said. Why are we obsessed with playing rubbish music (is it really?) at any opportunity? It would at least be tolerable if it were classical (proper music) then there would be something worth listening too when the inaudible conversation finally stuttered to an end.

Member

Ha – I have many of those, @malcolm-r. For me, it doesn’t matter what the music genre is. If a place is really busy, it all gets mixed up into general ‘din’.

Member

@mtrain, Pardon? 🙂 Is this why so many people have smart phones with ears plugged in? Are they actually having intelligible conversations with their companion? Presumably a group will be on a conference call?

Member

As somebody with a lifetime of hearing problems and now have the NHS,s largest, most powerful hearing aids , one turned up digitally to as far as it is possible, due to conductive and nerve damage , I can back up the fact that “surround noise ” has a major effect on the ability to understand the normal spoken word , this applies to high winds as well , the newer hearing aids try to compensate for that but it is never 100 % effective . There are one or two major benefits from being very deaf, if I turn them off I am not bothered with the “noise ” coming out from stations like radio one which just sound ,as Wavechange says–shouting/screaming , and even better if an advert comes on-hearing aid goes -OFF !

Member

I just want to say while that while I appear and act controversial , non-conformist and have upset Which and some regulars and some public posters I just want to thank all the Which staff for putting up with me and all the “regulars” like Wavechange -John-Ian-malcolm – Beryl-Patrick Taylor-Derek-William-Patrick S -Alfa-Lauren-and if I have missed anybody out blame it on a “senior moment” . I wish I could say I will change but I am too old for that , maybe mellow a bit but in any case a MERRY CHRISTMAS to all and as the saying goes in Scotland – “Lang may your lum reek “

Member
KEN PLATT says:
23 December 2016

I just can’t stand people having a good time. Noisy cafes and restaurants stone floors dining chairs without any rubber feet no curtains or soft furnishings, staff clattering crockery together banging doors are just a few reasons. Get what you want at everyone else’s expense. Ha Ha I could go on. (and on)

Member

Apart from age-related hearing loss, I’ve had tinnitus for many years. Despite having 2 hearing aids, background music ensures that I have real difficulty making out any words directed towards me, whether in pubs/cafes/shops, or on radio or TV. As already said, hard surfaces in many premises make things much worse.
As hearing difficulty is largely a ‘hidden’ problem, I don’t expect a wide scale resolution, any time soon, but good luck to those who do try to do something about this noise problem.

Member
Patrick says:
24 December 2016

Agree entirely that noise at restaurants etc is often excessive. However it isn’t necessarily a business policy to have it loud – its often the young staff who turn it up as a welcome distraction to a sometimes boring job.

Member
Ian W says:
24 December 2016

Good point, never thought of that but it seems feasible.

Member
Bruce says:
24 December 2016

It’s a difficult situation because those without hearing loss ‘possibly’ enjoy loud music.
However I’m confident enough just to ask for the music to be turned down.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve asked in a voice quiet enough for the head waiter to have ask me to repeat myself several times.
I favour restaurants with carpets and drapes that act as baffles.

Member
Robert Bard says:
24 December 2016

I tend not to return to restaurants where I have to struggle to hold a conversation. If I do struggle I always ask the manager very politely to turn the music down and have never been refused

Member
Penny Tompkins says:
24 December 2016

I really appreciate Which? making noise in restaurants and cafes an issue for discussion. My husband and I have started eating out earlier and earlier when we can still hear each other talk- but this probably means more business for restaurants, and is NO incentive for them to do anything about it! How can we use people-power and Which? to make a change?

Member
Jean Taylor says:
24 December 2016

I once had lunch in ‘Bill’s’ Kingsway, London. The background music was OK initially but as the place filled up, the music was ramped up. I complained and was told that this was their policy. I’ve eaten at other branches and not had the same problem.

Another problem is shouty diners. I had dinner one Sat. eve. recently with a friend in Cote, St. Martin’s Lane. On one side were 4 men of retirement age speaking loudly and on the other 8 young women, some of whom were very loud. Towards the end of the evening, I lost my temper stood up and told them to cut out the noise as they were spoiling it for everyone. I complained on-line, spoke to a very sympathetic area manager who sent us a £60 voucher.

Member

Its funny while I agree with the amount of noise in public places, if for any reason my hearing aids squeak you should hear the number of complaints ! I only have them full up because of the din so that I can hear somebody talking to me .

Member

Some time ago I went to a pub with a couple of friends. We had been to this pub previously as the beer was good, and although they had intrusive music they had turned it down when asked. On this occasion I spent several minutes trying to communicate with the barman and eventually managed to order two pint of bitter. I asked him if he could turn the noise down a bit, and was amazed at his reply :- ‘This is a pub, you know’. Needless to say we have not been back there.

Member
Ron Atkinson says:
24 December 2016

Although I agree with the discontent regarding ‘music’ played in restaurants and bars I have a second complaint. My surgery is within a multi-service medical centre. The building has a landlord who, in his wisdom during the design, linked most of the floor areas up and down to the single sound system. The only rooms free of direct music via a radio station are the doctors’ offices. The waiting areas are subject to loud transmissions, so loud that the spoken data on the healthcare TVs cannot be heard. Complaints over the years go disregarded.

Member

Ron, you should ask the Performing Rights Association to check up to see if the landlord is paying them as it is broadcast to the public ,if not then contact the landlord and put that to him.

Member

It’s actually PRS, PPL and MCSP, Duncan – Mechanical Copyright Protection Society. Very convoluted laws regarding playing music in public.

Member

Thanks for putting me straight Ian , yes I put assoc. instead soc. Music in a surgery ? I hope it wasn’t the “Last Post ” to drown out the coughing and sneezing ?

Member
ann m says:
24 December 2016

I have had the exact same experience as Jean Taylor though in several different pubs. In the early evening the music was fairly quiet and we could hear each other speak but as the pub filled up the staff turned the music up so every started to talk louder and louder. When this happens I ask for the music to be turned down. Mostly it is turned down, though often not as much as I would like. In one pub, the one in Covent Garden, an upstairs pub on the corner of the market, a few years ago, the staff turned the music down for a few minutes then turned it back up louder than before. I had to go up several times to ask them to turn it down. In the end we left and found somewhere quieter.

The only way to fix this is to politely request that the music is turned down and vote with your feet if they don’t comply.

Member
Roger says:
24 December 2016

I sometimes go into my local McDonalds and the music is always loud. I assume this is because they don’t want the customers to relax but leave after a short time to ensure a quick turnover.

Member

That worked in Australia Rodger , a large business always had youths hanging around playing loud music and causing trouble , the police couldn’t help so he installed a PA system that sounded outdoors –and played classical music , it worked –they left.

Member
Gillian says:
24 December 2016

I have found for several years that, since the advent of decor which excludes most upholstery, curtains, carpets and even tablecloths, restaurants have been noisy enough even without loud music. The clatter of cutlery, crockery and often open to view kitchens has made it almost impossible to have a conversation. Loud music just adds another layer of frustration.

Member
Brian says:
24 December 2016

Its a matter of context on the opposite side to be in a public place which is very quiet then people talk in whispers no good to me and if they speak up the room whole can hear the conversation. Some people have very acute hearing so its a case of getting the balance right to start with then keeping it that way. There is plenty of choice out there so if you don’t like a noisy pub don’t go in. As for shops and public places then background music should be a no no. In future there will be a generation who have never heard of background noise – the real thing.

Member
DCent says:
24 December 2016

Same problems as everyone else where ever you go out, but not only eateries – some outlet stores (more specifically for the younger element I admit). It becomes very limited to find suitable venues though. Mind, there have been times when I’ve thought the conversation is interrupting the music!
Similarly there is still the case in TV and film programmes, where the dialogue is so muffled or blanked out as to be totally indiscernible – have now resorted to making up my own stories to fill in the blanks, generally much better as well!!!!

Member
Angus says:
24 December 2016

We had a works do once at a London pub where the music was incredibly loud. Even if your colleague screamed directly into your ear from a distance of 2cm, most of the time you would have to shake your head and mouth the word ‘sorry?’ so they could try again. Ordering drinks became a pointing and lip-reading exercise. I shouted at one of the young bar staff if they could turn the music down and of course he couldn’t hear me. I had to write it down. He nodded but nothing happened. What possesses these establishments to think that deafening their customers, who in a pub are only there to talk to each other, is a great idea? I wrote them a letter afterwards saying I and many of my colleagues would never go back there, yet I’d be surprised if anything changed unless their takings went down and they started to wonder why that might be.

Member
Peter says:
24 December 2016

Totally agree, including highlighting the problem with restaurant & bar staff who are bored with their jobs and use playing loud music as an aid to get through to the end of their shift with as little customer contact as possible.

I have a particular problem with Lloyds Bank whose latest revamp of branches includes playing mindless, distracting music. When I point out that banks are places for considered decisions about important personal finances, I am told that staff have no discretion as it’s a matter of company policy. I have also pointed out that M & S enjoyed very significant savings from fees to the Performing Rights Society when they turned off the music. Unfortunately, Lloyds aren’t listening to their customers. (They used to conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys but mysteriously these ended about the same time as they spent millions of pounds gutting branches to install the new format. )

Member
terryindorset says:
25 December 2016

The Crown Inn in Fordingbridge is my regular haunt because they don’t have musak & will even turn the wall tv sound off if you ask. It’s so nice to be somewhere where the sounds of voices, etc, is all one hears. I told the landlord I only went there because of the lack of musak & thanked him…….he doesn’t like it wither so decided not to have.

I asked the Fig Tree to turn it down or off & the owner refused because he pays over £300 a year & wants his money’s worth. So much for what his customers want there then…………I told him I wouldn’t be back.!!

Member
John Lester says:
25 December 2016

CONSTRUCTIVE SUGGESTION: In the 1950s/1960s J.Lyons had an extensive chain of popular cafes and restaurants in London, as well as their prominent Corner Houses. Just one of their popular restaurants, in Lower Regent Street or Haymarket, had the celing covered in sound-absorbing tiles. (Squares about a foot square made of sound- absorbing material, perforated with holes.). This technology was well known, readily available and easy to install. The noise dampening, including the clatter of plates and cutlery, was dramatic, withoutpreventing conversation.. With depleted hearing, I generally avoid the noisy Eagle Pub Carvery at Wanstead, despite its excellence. Do try to persuade them to instal sound insulation.
J.L.

Member

My friends and I regularly go to the bar/ restaurant of a upmarket hotel at my local airport sometimes we can have conversations as whole table other times I remember other guests being so noisy we couldn’t have a conversation as a whole table so we have ended up having conversations with the person sat next us . Part of the problem is the number of people other times its badly behaved children adult responsible for them has failed adequately deal with the behaviour of the child. The staff are on the whole are very good but it has a high turnover of staff.

Member
Ken Dunn says:
28 December 2016

If I go into a restaurant and the music is too loud I ask them to turn it down and they usually do. If they don’t then I’m inclined not to go back for quite some time. It’s the same with supermarkets. If their music is too loud too often I’m inclined not to shop there. For dining and shopping a quieter atmosphere is necessary for pleasant conversations and concentrating on purchases. If employees of these places put the music levels up for their own pleasure then they should be disciplined.

Member
Patrick NLA says:
30 December 2016

Having just attended our office Xmas dinner costing £90/head & struggled to hear people sat next to me & packed so tight i couldn’t easily get up from the table, i definitely support this campaing. Despite asking politely many times, i’ve never had the music turned down. i once disconnected a loudspeaker in a pub function room – as asking didn’t achieve anything – & got barred! Never wanted to go back!

Member
Julia says:
7 January 2017

I am delighted that Which has joined the crusade against the insidious increase in unwanted and damaging background noise which needs to be fought at every opportunity. Can I draw attention to an organisation called Pipedown which has been attempting to do just this for the last 20 years. Maybe an opportunity to collaborate?

Member

Which? Conversation has run previous Conversations on this topic and Pipedown has been referred to many times. Your remark that “Pipedown has been attempting to do just this for the last 20 years” shows how deep-rooted the problem is and how little regard commerce has for people with hearing difficulties or those who just don’t like the ever-present racket. Not only has Pipedown failed to make any serious inroads into the extent and volume of music in eating establishments, the nuisance has actually got much worse over the last twenty years as more places have loud music on all the time and some have stripped their rooms of all sound absorbing materials so the acoustic effect is amplified and made unbearable for some people.

Member
Ian W says:
8 January 2017

Yes, I did join Pipedown some time ago, but it seemed to have no influence that I could detect. There has been one victory though, Marks and Spencer, at least my branch, has turned off its piped music. It used to be really annoying and, interspersed with advert for M&S products, made for a unpleasant shopping experience. I contacted them to commend this decision and they did reply favourably. An example for more retail organisations to follow.

Member

Ian W – You might be interested to read the Conversation “It’s oh so quiet in M&S, is this music to your ears?” [2 June 2016] – go to:
https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/music-marks-and-spencer-pipedown-muzak/#

Member
Ian W says:
8 January 2017

Yes I have seen that conversation. M&S here did have a relapse over Christmas, but all peaceful again now.

Member
Steve S says:
9 January 2017

I too want all this noisy music to stop when I go out to pubs and restaurants. The levels do not add to the ambiance and destroy conversation one of the main reasons most people go out. Even in the 60’s I used to ask them to turn the disco music down as it hurt my ears and made enjoying the music impossible. My hearing was fine then,now I struggle with hearing anyone talking. I’m sure the increase in music in pubs had as much to do with their decline as I know we stopped going to loads for that reason. This insistence on filling spaces with music on TV and film is also ruining the pleasure there too and is getting worse so please, please get it to STOP !

Member

Thanks for raising this topic, Which. My exasperation is with the gym. It seems that Fitness First seem believe that they need to have their dreadful music so loud that a Pilates class is drowned out by their tuneless based-dominated thumping sound in the background. Likewise trying to listen to their TV through earbuds can be equally difficult when with their music at such a high decibel level. My efforts to have the volume moderated have been totally ignored. Who is responsible for ensuring that the decibel level of music in gyms remains at safe levels? Trading Standards? Someone else? Thanks.

Member

Deb in the UK you report noise pollution to your regional council go to :https://www.gov.uk/report-noise-to-council there you will find a box – input your postcode and you will go to a link for your council >click on it>input in box environmental health.

Member
Christie says:
10 January 2017

Please add gyms to the list or organisations to target, Which. I find it annoying and very unpleasant when the decibel level at Fitness First is so loud. Aside from finding the heavy bass and lack of rhythm or enjoyment in their selection of sound, the volume it is add ruins the ambiance of a Pilates class and makes it impossible to even hear the TV commentary through earbuds. When I have asked them to please moderate the volume, they make it clear that that is non-negotiable. Sadly it seems other local gyms have a similar policy. So my question is: Who monitors the decibel level of gyms from a health & safety perspective? Thanks

Member

Most UK websites get too technical to equate noise to deafness but try US website : http://dangerousdecibels.org/education/information-center/decibel-exposure-time-guidlines/ lovely easily explained coloured charts with db range and permissible exposure time .Developed by Elliot Breger MS, Senior Scientist with 3M Occupational Health + Environmental Safety Division –I take it nobody is going to argue with him ?