/ 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?

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

A Ross says:
15 October 2015

I feel its usually the volume of the music played rather than the actual music which is annoying. There is nothing worse when out for pleasure than having to talk increasingly loudly to be heard over the music noise.

Peter Deffee says:
15 October 2015

All Muzak is an intrusion, loud Muzak is an abomination. Muzak is sold on the claim that it is ‘good’ for the consumer and will encourage them to spend more. The public are too apathetic to convince the perpetrators otherwise.

I have no objection to music in shops and restaurants provided it is in the background, and I do not have to raise my voice in order to converse. I recognise that tastes differ in types of music, and would not complain provided any words are not insulting or profane.

I swim nearly every morning in my local swimming pool with other elderly people. For a lot of us it is the only time they get to socialise with people of a similar age and background.

The BACKGROUND music is so loud at times we have to shout to hear each other as it echoes off hard surfaces or the very surface of the water itself, where we are all up too our necks in it. We are often told that we came “to swim so get on with it and less chit chat” or “The staff like it”.

We now nearly despair. The staff have even overrode the official PA system and have plugged in a personal HI FI. If the alarms go off we cannot hear any safety instructions because of the noise.

By the way they turn it off when they “Train” for life saving so that those learning to save lives can hear shouts for help and instructions from the side of the pool. It apparently does not matter when it comes to the ral thing.

John Ling says:
15 October 2015

JL. If the noise is too loud I ask for it to be turned down or off. In most eating places that is usually quite sufficient. If the proprietor won’t do so then I get up and leave whether or not I have placed my order. If the noise is so loud that it knocks you over at the entrance, eg The Skylon on the Thames South Bank, I simply don’t go in! Note that I am profoundly deaf and also suffer from tinnitus both attributable to noisy working conditions doing National Service in the RAF and feel sorry for today’s youth who are in the voluntary process of following in my footsteps.

Ally says:
15 October 2015

Sometimes it’s nice to have some music to add atmosphere. I usually choose places that play the type of music that I like.
It would be a shame if this campaign made every pub, café and restaurant lose the music. At the moment, some places play music and some don’t, so everyone can choose what they prefer.
It’s not fair to force everyone to change, leaving no choice anymore. There should be different types of venues to cater for everyone.

Dave says:
15 October 2015

What we are asking for is more choice, Ally. Not so long ago restaurants and pubs had to provide smoking and non-smoking areas. Why can’t they provide muzak-free areas? Lots of pubs have two bars but, instead of providing a choice, they have music playing throughout the premises at the same volume. I don’t think most people on this thread want to ban music altogether but in many towns it’s becoming difficult to find anywhere that isn’t playing loud vocal music in every corner.

Fiona Baile says:
15 October 2015

I either leave immediately if the music is too loud, or ask for the volume to be turned down. The same applies in shops. I was in a branch of Cotton Traders and the music was really loud. I said to the assistant that if she turned the music down there was a chance that I would buy something. She did as requested, but when I was in the fitting cubicle, the music came blasting back. I took the garment and put it on the counter and said that as the music had come back on, I would not now be buying.

Jenny says:
15 October 2015

I agree with all that has been said and regularly ask for a seat away from the speaker and or ask for it to be turned down. However this is not possible in a pub where most of the staff are young and seem oblivious to it. Our local designer centre has horrendous music as you walk around and every time you walk into a shop they have different horrendous music playing, you cannot get away from it, hence I go very rarely. Yes I’m just over retirement age and it is said we are the ones with spending power which most stores do not seem to recognise

I do object to piped music in pubs and restaurants. If I am with friends or family I ask for it to be turned down, often the request is accepted and I have noticed that the general level of noise goes down with it.
If I walk into a pub or restaurant and there is any more than very quiet music, I walk out. If it is too loud or gets too loud I vote with my feet and don’t go there again.

I think one thing has been missed as you get older the ability to filter out obtrusive sounds such that one can concentrate on the talking taking place becomes almost impossible. Everyone suffers from this but won’t realise it until they get there!

I for one (as does my wife) hate going to pubs or cafes where kids are allowed to scream and run around like dervishes, at some point I am going to ask the parents to control them (I haven’t as yet got there).

Finally if the noise be it from music or loudmouthed people who want the whole world to hear what they are saying, then we will leave. I do like the idea of saying if the noise is not reduced then we will stay until it is reduced but not order anything!

I have Asperger Syndrome and find loud music intrusive. My Aspergers is fairly mild and people who are affected more can find almost any background music a problem.

In my youth, disco’s were fun for self, and all of the friends. Although perhaps ‘noisy’ we could talk to the person that we were dancing with at the time and also hear each other talk to one another when we went back to the selected table .
Shouting seems to be in precedence nowadays!
Just think of the benefit for the carers of those who will, perhaps, soon be hard of hearing or even become deaf from the constant use of the feathers in the ears!

F Poole says:
15 October 2015

My hearing was damaged in the 70s at a Slade concert now i find it difficult to enjoy a conversation in any crowded area were there is loud music or many voices talking at the same time. therefore i try to avoid such venues if possible

B Jones says:
15 October 2015

There is just too much background music everywhere…….please let us have more silence

Glyn Roberts says:
15 October 2015

Premier Inn dining rooms plagued by boring, meaningless wailing.

M Bazz says:
16 October 2015

I agree that Muzak can be an unnecessary and irritating intrusion in places where people meet socially to chat over a drink or a meal. Is there a belief that it helps to create an ‘atmosphere’ perhaps? If it is loud, I ask if it could be turned down, or ask for a quieter table. I am quite prepared to walk out if it remains too loud, as it spoils my reason for being there.

I agree with all comments. Two points in particular.
First, lots of remarks about music, but fewer about the modern tendency when styling premises to avoid fitting carpets and soft furnishings without thought given to any alternative means of reducing ambient noise. In busy premises the volume of chatter alone, echoing off all the hard surfaces, can actually be quite painful, let alone render your friends’ conversation inaudible.
Secondly, I plead guilty to putting up with this in the past, but agree we should do something about it. We should make the owners/managers of noisy establishments aware of the problem and where possible leave the premises without spending money.

I also have moderate hearing loss, I find these days that its not only the loud music, but the sound of the coffee machine doing its work and very small children who show their disappointment at the fact their parents are so busy texting by crying at what for me is great volume, I don’t blame the children rather the adults that bring them in and that my hearing seems to find these frequencies much easier to hear than the person sat opposite. Oddly one of the best places I have found is Weatherspoons which is a low cost eatery, that as far as I am aware has a policy of no music and their seem to be no coffee machines or at least no noise

Several decades ago I ran a ‘bistro’ and to overcome that ‘quietness’ before there were sufficient clients creating their own buzz we played classical music – never singing. Once the buzz got going to the music was turned down. Often clients would ask what piece we were playing and could we turn it up!! We did not, it was there for the simple purpose of allowing clients to talk privately without others hearing their conversation.
But these days (oh dear!) one is obliged to listen and conversation is killed off.

We still play classical music in the cafe and adopt the same process as you did, Simone. Great to hear we’re not the only ones.

Even though I enjoy much of what is regarded as ‘classical music’, I don’t want it as background music. I listen to music at home and could play it through earphones at other times of the day if I wanted to.

I realise that I’m probably in the minority being totally opposed to background music of any type or volume, but I’m not alone.