/ Food & Drink, Health, Travel & Leisure

Are you fed up with noisy cafés, pubs and restaurants?


Action on Hearing Loss members are fed up with noisy cafés, pubs and restaurants – but it’s not just people with hearing loss who want quieter public places. Do you find dining out too loud to enjoy yourself?

Whether you’re out for after-work drinks with colleagues at the local pub, a family meal at a restaurant or a quick coffee with friends in a cosy café, we tend to think of going out for food or a drink as a social activity.

Part of what attracts many of us to a particular venue is its atmosphere or ‘buzz’ – but how much is too much?

Public places should be quieter

At Action on Hearing Loss, our members told us in a recent survey that they wanted us to focus on making cafés, pubs and restaurants more accessible, as they are often no-go areas for people with hearing loss.

We think this is a problem that affects lots of people, with or without hearing loss. And it’s something that seems to be backed up by many Which? Convo community members. Sharon, for instance, recently commented on how she’s fed up with piped music ruining her evening:

Muzak in public places is a modern scourge, but worst of all is muzak in restaurants, pubs and cafes. When you go for a meal, you’re there for an hour or so to enjoy the food and chat to your companions.

The widespread use of background music and the fashion for open-plan designs and hard furnishings are just two factors which can help create a high level of background noise in these spaces.

As conversations become louder and louder, fighting to overcome the existing level of noise can create quite a stressful environment – whether you have hearing loss or not. I know I find it uncomfortable to sit in these places too long, struggling to hear my friends and family and needing to shout to make myself heard.

Do you think eating out is too noisy?

Have you ever moved on to a new pub because it was too loud to hold a conversation? Or thought twice about going back to a restaurant because of the noisy dining experience? I know I have!

We would love to hear about your dining experiences. Is ease of conversation something you consider when choosing where to go out? And if you think this is as big a problem as we do, what do you think cafés, pubs and restaurants should be doing differently to get you back through the door?

We have also put together a short survey to try to understand what factors influence where people decide to go out, and what you think are the biggest problems in these venues. We can’t wait to hear from you as we begin to plan our new campaign!

This is a guest contribution by Luke Dixon of Action on Hearing Loss. All opinions are Luke’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


Me-&-the-missus always ask for a table as far from the loudspeakers as possible or to have the volume turned down, which sometimes works and never seems to prompt a counter-request from resentful muzak-starved other customers. My eating-out

World War, from an elderly fellow-diner (a once privileged officer of King Peter of
Yugoslavia’s Guard) who was visiting London from his politically demoted home in
Yugoslavia, and was being ‘treated’ by his émigré son to a ‘fancy’ meal at the popular Back in the dismally protracted era of austerity after the last World War, I was, as an impecunious and hungry if rarely appetised student at London University, treated by my landlord to a family meal at Lyons’ Corner House in Piccadilly, famed for its simple but generous fare accompanied intermittently by an incidental but blissfully unique all-ladies’ band. Mine host wanted to impress his visiting Yugoslav father (a pre-Communist ex-officer of King Peter’s Guard), When asked by his eager-to-please son how he was enjoying this then blissfully rare musical side-dish, the dignified old man straightened his already straight shoulders, wiped his lips deftly, and muttered a curt comment, dutifully translated by his aggrieved son as (wait for it) ‘I prefer the music on my plate’. That has been my dining (or dinning?) motto ever since.

I walked into a John Lewis restaurant recently hoping for a few minutes quiet repose with a coffee and scone and promptly walked straight out again. There was no music to be heard, only the loud hubbub of what sounded to me like a load of sheep, goats and cattle magnified 100 times.

Recent studies carried out at Oxford University demonstrate that classical music could help to beat heart disease and lower blood pressure. See: telegraph.co.uk – Verdi Beethoven and Puccini could help beat heart disease- Laura Donnelly – 09 June 2015. However pop music has the opposite effect by raising your BP.

Let’s bring back Mantovani – Charmaine, Some Enchanted Evening, and topically Autumn Leaves.

. . . and don’t forget Semprini. I can still remember his introduction : “Old ones, new ones, loved ones, neglected ones”. I don’t think he’d be up for today’s “new ones” though.

The widespread use of piped music is getting ridiculous. You can’t escape. In one very large pub we went to recently, every nook and cranny had a speaker, including outside, so it was impossible to find a quiet area. The comments about the bad acoustics is also an important one. In many places there is nothing to deaden the noise. We refuse to go to one Sainsbury cafe as the cacophony is unbelievable, punctuated by constant very loud public announcements. Does any owner or manager of these places give a second thought as to whether piped music is really necessary? One wonders on occasion whether it is more for the staff than the customers!

My understanding is that the use of hard furnishings, floors, walls, etc is standard practice in the restaurant trade because it increases turnover and revenue. Comfortable, relaxed diners stay longer, but don’t spend proportionally more. Vote with your feet folks, if you can find anywhere quiet.

John Huntingford says:
10 October 2015

I have good hearing and am sure I’m not alone in frequently leaving restaurants and other venues before ordering because of finding the piped music intrusive. Music is not something I can just ignore; and it annoys me that I have to be subjected to someone else’s musical taste.
Years ago, when staying in a small hotel, my wife and I were disappointed to find there was piped music in the dining room. There weren’t many other guests in the room, so we asked of each table individually if they would prefer the music on or off. They all said that they would much prefer none at all. So I asked the staff whether they would turn the music off. They replied they could turn it down a little but didn’t want to turn it off as it was liked by the guests. I told them that in fact none of us wanted it: so they turned it off, but with little grace. I suspect piped music is often for the benefit of staff and not customers.

Alison Hewat says:
10 October 2015

We even had a problem in a restaurant where we were the only people there when we asked that the noise be turned off.

When a licence is required to relay music and electricity is required to play it the costs are mounting up. When people are saying things are expensive, this unpleasant noisy intrusion should go to help both customers and businesses.

It is even worse when you are in a cafe which is in a shopping centre as the centre has muzak and the cafe has a different muzak competing and you can hear both.

One person’s choice of muzak is another person’s unpleasant noise. I will spend more time and money in a shop where there is no muzak.

Banks are now getting in on this act so a business conversation has to be shouted to be heard. Very poor business practice.

If I have the choice I avoid Muzak filled shops, cafes etc. Drives me crackers.

I quite agree & hope that it is not owing to us getting older, defer,& perhaps not liking the new high pitched hubble bubble. I am now cussing & swearing when listening to almost everything on the telly when a person is talking music has to be played in the background making it almost impossible to understand what is being said. An example program that was on the t.v. ( Educating Cardiff ) while the head was speaking the music took over, why ? one presumes this is why music is everywhere so we cannot quite understand what the speaker is saying. Please can we return to old Britain & show some Manners by cutting out high pitched singing & screechy music. music from the 50’s & 60’s can be accepted I am sure by many .

If you want music from the fifties and sixties go to M&S; the only problem is it is totally ruined by being cover versions and not the original artistes. It adds insult to injury.

One major problem about background music has been the change in the quality of broadcast sound over time and the methods we use to listen. I work in video editing (and I’m not defending the folks that get it wrong) but when editing something I balance the music so the important and relevant sounds can be clearly discerned. But when I’ve finished in the studio I might run the same sequence on the house system and the mix can sound quite different. Getting it right for everyone is no easy task. I now run a finished edit through our own home systems (we have three in the house) to see what it sounds like on a cross section of systems. It’s always a surprise.

I read recently that the BBC had now realised that their production staff and programme commissioners, editors, etc, were, for approval purposes, replaying new programmes through much higher fidelity and more sophisticated equipment than is found in 95% of homes and other places where people watch TV, like hotels. Hence they were unaware of the generally poor balance between music and voice when merged on a common track and the distorting effect of the up-down fading [or rough cut in many cases] of the background music in between passages of dialogue. This seems a bit of an elementary failure but I gather they have learnt from it and installed more representative equipment in their offices and review suites now.

The combination of poor acoustics in restaurants and many pubs and the lo-fi loudspeakers frequently used make the problem worse. Higher definition speakers, which could be tuned to compensate for the poor acoustic, would presumably be prohibitively expensive for what is supposed to be just ‘background music’.

I don’t object to music in pubs and restaurants if it is at an acceptable volume and free from distortion.

It wasn’t BBC editors per se, in fact; it was external editing houses the BBC was forced into using for some projects, since some years ago the government directed that fewer programmes be made in-house and more outsourced to ‘save money’. Of course, those external production companies were – in the main – set up by ex-BBC employees who now earn a lot more selling back to the BBC what they would have done for free if the Beeb were still allowed to make all its shows in-house.

But you’re right about the ability of some younger editors to presume everyone has Bose reference Hi-Fi speakers and amps in their houses.

we’ve had this pollution in a doctor’s surgery in recent years

and in some national trust shops

its always oafmusik – and it tells us just what those running the joints think of us – it ain’t very much

Probably won’t work every time but a couple of times that the music was too loud in a restaurant we were visiting we simply, politely asked the staff if they could turn it down a bit. They did so without argument.

Perhaps there should be a compulsory OFF switch at every table.

Ah – the Star Trek ‘dome of silence’? Excellent idea :-)))

By the way, I think we should be trying much harder to get into the spirit of all this piped music – and that should include singing along, as best and as loudly as we can, whenever possible. What are they gonna do, eject us (and our custom) from the shops and restaurants in question?

If we all started doing this, I’m sure piped music would soon become a thing of the past….

Great idea, Derek. I’d suggest the following tweak to it to improve its efficacy: sing along as BADLY and as loudly as we can.

… I agree with others that quite possibly most piped music’s for the benefit of the staff rather than their customers. I sometimes get the feeling that some serving staff, whether in shops or food places, just want to engage with their customers as little as possible. So if piped music obscures customers’ conversations, maybe that is actually what such staff members want. Am I being cynical? It’s a bit depressing.


Alan says:
11 October 2015

We just find most background music in restaurants too noisy, intrusive and completely unnecessary. After all music tastes vary tremendously, and much of it seems to suit the staff rather than customers. There are far better ways to create a good ambience for customers. We just want a relaxing time when we eat out, not a noise fest.

Sally says:
12 October 2015

Background music is clearly a problem for people who have a hearing impairment; it makes it even more difficult to have a conversation. It is just another layer of noise , competing with all the other noises in the bar or restaurant. For music lovers it is particularly irritating because they cannot even hear the music properly. How often do businesses increase the volume as the restaurant fills up so that their customers have to shout ever more loudly in order to be heard? If you are brave enough to complain, you are often met with “You don’t like music then?” Loud background music is a problem for those with “normal” hearing, let alone for people with a hearing disability.

I have been driven out of my local pub at which I have been a regular since 1959 by loud pop music. The landlord’s reply is that his customers like it. As we know that more of us dislike it than like it there is a distinct possibility of him ceasing business.

m silson says:
12 October 2015

I too have had hearing lost for years i now have an inplant i quiet agree pipe music sould stop lets face it you go to a cafe or resternant to talk ! we sould NOT have to compeat with this noise !

There have been a few occasions in restaurants where we’ve been the only customers, mainly because we had an early meal (others came in while we were eating). As soon as we had sat down, on came the muzak. I asked them to turn it off, which they did.

Noisy pubs are more of a problem, but it often isn’t the muzak directly – it’s some loud-mouthed individuals on the next table but one – but the muzak is probably making them shout even louder. The daftest of all is my local pub that hosts acoustic music sessions every Wednesday evening. Due to some daft local bylaw we have to stop playing at 23:00 – then on comes the muzak – louder than we were playing earlier!

I have some industrial deafness from working in a noisy industry and the usual age-related deterioration which makes it very difficult to ignore background noise and actually hear the conversation I am trying to take part in. An expensive digital hearing aid which was supposed to help with this was no use at all. I agree with all the comments made about lack of sound absorbing material and that the musak is often for the benefit of staff – often young and used, like my now adult children, to doing their homework with music on. I had to leave a company Christmas party in a restaurant as the music was turned louder and louder as the evening progressed. I don’t think people realise how unpleasant and oppressive this loud background noise can be.

The problem not addressed is, the folks who work or make those music decisions, just plain do not give a damn. And if you think it’s bad here, try doing a simple grocery shop in my home country, which happens to the the USA. When did background music become foreground? About the same time they thought music in the loo to was a great idea. We are sooooo lucky here with our local markets just not assaulting our ears with anything. And speaking of unwanted music. I have a huge complaint with Which? and the poorly modulated and monotonous music the company forces into my ear while on hold. Boring doesn’t cover it. Annoying works and so does maddening. Does Which? care about that? Doesn’t seem so thus far. Same with certain calls with Tesco and BT. A loop of over modulated static in between every other note on one of the two.
I spent more than two minutes on hold calling Which?, and I didn’t mind the wait but just couldn’t take whatever it is that passes for music for more than two minutes. I gave up and hung up. Why should people be forced to listen to things they might not buy themselves, but must suffer through an endless loop of the same few bars over and over and over.
Back to the original topic, as an example of just how little too many of the ppl who control the volume care.
It’s common in the USA and it’s happened to my wife and I more than once. If you complain about the music you will be told that the establishment hasn’t any control, as the music is fed to the store or pub or wherever, from another state where their home office is or some other lie.
Bottom line …. the noise makers don’t care.

I think the reason many businesses don’t understand the problem or “give a damn”, as j.diamond says, is because they have been brainwashed by the music licence agencies into thinking that their customers want this music and that it is good for sales. For years PPLUK and PRS for Music have been persuading companies to purchase music licences (often running into thousands of pounds), backed up by their “research” and “statistics”. Last month the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against PPL and they have had to remove or re-write 94 of their statistics. Only 19 have been left in their original format. If I ran a business, I would be furious that I had been misled in this way.