/ 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?


I have auditory processing disorder, which means that in the presence of loud background noise, I lose the ability to understand speech. I can hear it but my brain can’t process it so it just becomes part of the ambient sound. In loud environments I often have to put a finger in one ear and get so close to people that they are almost spitting in my open ear just to have a conversation. Over years of this I have ended actively avoid pubs and clubs when I can, which has made me seem very antisocial and unfriendly, but most people seem to enjoy the loud music so I’ve just had to be the unsociable one.

Maybe you should complain that these establishments are discriminating against you in breach of the Equality Act 2010. Auditory processing disorder fulfils the definition of a disability under Section 6. If the minority suffering from this disorder complain, it would also be of great benefit also to the majority who don’t suffer from it. It could also be argued that these establishments are discriminating by age, which is covered by Section 5.

Much too arduous. Just don’t use the noisy places. Life much about choices.

I agree Bruce. Where you must attend places – say medical- where you have no choice then it is wrong to inflict unwanted noise. Where you have a choice – restaurant, club – then you can stay, leave, or simply not go in the first place.

The question arises of what is the position of staff who work there, and have no choice (other than changing jobs). Some think they like the noise and need distraction, others that they should not also have to suffer. I presume they will have to accept it unless it is a health and safety issue – damaging levels.

David says:
18 October 2015

I agree totally with G*. I have very good hearing for my age, in part from working as a noise and vibration engineer before retiring and being able to minimise the risks. Normally I can almost hear a pin drop but as soon as I am in a noisy environment I cannot pick out the wanted sound (usually speech) from the swamping effect of the additional noise. I’ve found some help wearing Elacin customised moulded ear plugs, otherwise known as musicians’ ear plugs, which have a flat response to incoming sound so that the volume reduces without distortion. Although the mixed sounds are still there, I find the lower volume easier to enable me to separate out the wanted content of the sounds. However, it’s not ideal and I’d far prefer music levels to be reduced. Unfortunately, for short duration exposure to noise within statutory limits, there is no major risk to hearing and no legal means of banning the use of music in the background.

Kathleen says:
30 January 2016

I went to Brighton yesterday to buy clothes.. I couldn’t due to music playing loud .. I always complain, however staff just smile and say ,, it’s from head office and we can’t turn it down ,, and it’s gotten worst over the years , it’s a real problem for me , gone are the days you could wander around a shop without loud music , some of which are down right depressing .

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Jean says:
7 October 2017

I agree Kathleen, I struggle to hear properly when loud. Sic is playing, I love music but do not understand why it should be played so loud.

Jean Turner says:
16 October 2015

We find it intrusive, just as with certain TV programmes! We now avoid restaurants who persist in loud music, not usually of our taste

I was seeking a spot to make my comment about TV and I see you have raised the problem. I complain when watching a program if it includes inappropriate music. Wild Life with a full blown orchestra in the jungle. Recently, they have added all sorts of ad hoc noise to Homes under the Hammer, it interferes with the speech. I use hearing aids so am very concious of the level of sound. The producers of these programs clearly think it adds something, where as, it is a total distraction

For some years I have had great difficulty communicating when there is background noise. I cannot understand why music has to be played so loud that it drowns out conversation. People shout, adding to the noise, and in the end the whole thing become so tiring that the only thing to do is go home exhausted. I dread having to attend “social” occasions, because it is impossible to socialise.

There are 3 local and a few not so local restaurants/cafes where we have given up going because of the excessive noise which puts us off our food. The noise is not due to music but the general hubbub caused by the people there and by ill behaved children and screaming babies. I do not see how this will ever be overcome since it appears to be normal human behaviour these days. We have solved it by not going there which is a loss both to my wife and I and to the owners of the establishments. Maybe if the noise was made public in some sort of review people would take notice.

I don’t think you will ever be able to control the volume of unbearable noise emanating from people who want to make themselves heard above the hubbub generated by others. I have a suggestion; restaurants and others could be encouraged to use sound dampening measures such as sound absorbing cladding to walls and ceilings and soft floor coverings. The effect is that the once noisy people would not need to shout to make conversation. My way of dealing with this problem is to walk out as I have done part way through the meal.

There are perfectly good ways to reduce the background noise in restaurants and pubs but few proprietors know about them, or indeed why these places can be so noisy. I think it time that Which started a campaign to bring this to the attention of the relevant authority with the long term aim of introducing legislation that limits the allowable sound level in such places. In the meantime, the reason why these places are often very noisy, is simply because they will have hard floors, walls and ceilings that reflect the sound back. A quick remedy that would help, would be to fit carpets on the floor, but that is not a practical solution long term and may be unfashionable. A better long term solution is to fit sound absorbing panels on the ceiling and the walls, or to spray a sound absorbing finish on them. These techniques are widely used in America and are increasingly used on the Continent. A typical supplier in this country (I have connections with them) is:

There is a public need for these measures and Which could play a part in restoring our full enjoyment in these public places. Is Which listening?

Jean says:
7 October 2017

I too wish Which would start a campaign to have the noise levels adjusted. I live next door to a pub who play the music so loud I can sing along in my living room and bedroom to it. I have spoken to them but they think I am being unreasonable.

Philip Hall says:
17 October 2015

I have no hearing problems, but am absolutely incensed by the inane blaring row that most pubs and restaurants now seem to think is a vital part of their customers’ enjoyment. Many people may like this, but without doubt there is a large number of those of us who don’t. On numerous occasions I have asked for it to be turned down, and noted nods of approval from other customers.

If pubs must play music, why to they have to wedge a speaker in to every possible corner, so that no one can escape? Does it not occur to any of them to have a quiet (or quieter) area where conversations can be held in comfort.

I immediately walk out of any shop where loud music is playing.

Having quiet zones in pubs and restaurants would be an excellent idea – just as there used to be no-smoking zones

Yes, I am fed up of too-loud music in pubs and restaurants! Nothing wrong with a bit of music, but I want to be able to talk without shouting.

Paul says:
18 October 2015

I am delighted that my local has always banned any sort of electronic “entertainment”. When other(non-local) people come in they often smile and comment that this is a “proper local” – just because there is no piped music and people talk!

There should be a legal limit on noise levels in bars and restaurants where there is no dance floor or live performance. There is no good reason for bars and restaurants to increase music volumes to such a level that customers cannot carry out conversations without shouting.

We have a local, excellent Italian restaurant which I would love to return to again. The only thing that prevents me is the Echoey noise which is so LOUD that I cannot engage in conversation with my friends. Sadly we meet up in an inferior pub which has soft furnishings which absorbs the surplus noise. Why don’t these premises consider us more? or do they set the style for a quick turnaround.

Sally says:
18 October 2015

Does your excellent local Italian restaurant know why you have stopped going, Mave? If not, please tell them! So many people don’t complain and businesses have no idea how much revenue they are losing.

Kathryn says:
19 October 2015

I have questioned the choice and volume of “music” (?) being played in Holland and Barratt and my opinions were agreed with wholeheartedly by the cashier. However, it is evidently the Manager’s choice and all the staff have to comply. It’s the same when I go into Superdrug – their radio station is blasted out from all corners in the shop and I simply cannot concentrate on what I’m looking for! It completely destroys my concentration and enjoyment whilst in the shop and certainly stops me from browsing.
I love music – when and where it’s appropriate – and something lyrical and calm being played really softly in the background can be very soothing.
Just to say, I think the same track has been played for a year in B & M Bargains – it must drive the staff potty!

I wish to record a comment about very noisy and obtrusive music played during the EIS (English Institute of Sport) British Athletic Championships at Sheffield during the winter months each year. My wife and I have attended this event several times as I am an athletics lover and former participant. The whole occasion has been marred by the persistent and off putting cacophony of sound played in the ‘background’. This tends to drown out the official commentary, makes concentration on the sport very difficult and for us spoils the whole event. We have complained to the organisers but have received no reply or change to their policy.

It must make things more difficult for the athletes too. Stadia do not have the best acoustic properties at the best of times.

Public places should be quieter, and that includes shops. I was “looking forward” to a quick and quiet shop this morning before the arrival of the throngs, but I am very disappointed to announce that there was loud muzak playing at my local Tesco. I am emailing them forwith (so that there is a record of my complaint and it won’t be quite so easily dismissed as it would have been by the shop’s customer “service”), and I will shop at Lidl’s more often from now on. I will be telling that too to Tesco, and point them in the direction of this website and convo.

Rarely can I enjoy the music being played in a restaurant. If particularly annoying I make a point of asking “who chooses the music” followed by an appropriate comment on it.

Good idea to initiate a conversation, rather than just complaining, John. Other suggestions that have been made to me include, “Can you recommend a nearby restaurant that doesn’t play background muzac?” (I am told they often turn it off as a result) or (and you have to be both brave and rich for this) order the most expensive items on the menu, including the most expensive bottle of wine, and then ask if they will turn off the muzac. If they refuse, you stand up and say you are very sorry but the muzac is ruining your meal and you will have to leave. Remember you will have to pay for what you have ordered if they do comply and turn off the muzac!

Percy Bradshaw says:
5 November 2015

Unfortunately a lot of people like noise. Perhaps it saves them the bother of making conversation! They also put up with extortionate prices and amateur service. ‘Traditional pub food’ = standard issue menu; traditionally pubs didn’t serve food (perhaps the odd sandwich or meat pie).
If you want peace and professional efficient service you need to go to Italy.

Dave says:
6 November 2015

Just because a lot of people like noise doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to put up with it. Surely they can provide their own noise with personal music players? Or the pub or restaurant can provide a muzak-free area?

I am often driven out of shops by the BOOM BOOM BOOM of hip hop and other modern music, it is infuriating and prevents one from thinking straight. Older people don’t like this music and we make up a massive percentage of the population. Don’t the store operators realise this? Surely they don’t want to drive customers away? It doesn’t make sense. I have complained about it in Asda but it made no difference.

Kathleen says:
24 November 2015

I’m bipolar but even if I weren’t , how do people concentrate , I can’t , hence no winter clothes yet!! If I were wealthy I could have the shops ” closed ” and choose my winter items in peace .. I so would like to +++

Perhaps the stores think that we will so love their music that we will linger longer and buy more goods. Can you be sure that when the wealthy are allowed in out of hours to buy their clothes the music is turned off? It probably is if they request it.

A lot of smaller stores have music on for the employees. The larger ones are usually combining it with advertising.

A good number of employees commenting on the previous Conversations on music in shops said how much they hated the continuous repetitive music but several other employees said how much it made their day. I think it’s fair to say that the general reaction from commenters was that if customers don’t want it [or physically cannot cope with it because of hearing impairment or interference with hearing aids] then their concerns should take precedence over the wishes of the staff.

At the age of 70 and with deteriorating hearing and tinnitus, I will eat out only in reasonably quiet establishments and almost never in ones with ‘musak’. The only exception to this is the very occasional visit to Wagamama because the food is so tasty. I never go with anyone else because conversation would be impossible, and I always wear earplugs; the noise in those places must surely be hazardous to the staff.

Quite agree Richard. The harsh acoustic doesn’t help. The affect on people with hearing problems still doesn’t seem to register to the same extent as adverse conditions do for other disabilities.

chris says:
3 December 2015

i enjoy music in shops makes shopping more relaxing you can end up hearing songs you never heard before that you may like and being a worker in a shop in the past music makes the day go quick and more enjoyable with out it its depressing the day goes so slow i know many people who like it and hopefully shops wont ever stop it, its not all about the customers they will spend at the most a hour in a shop workers can be 10 hours in the shop so it should be more for them but at a level also good for the customers.

Dave says:
4 December 2015

chris, I would suggest that customers are more important than staff when it comes to shops. Lots of customers already avoid shops playing music or else get their necessary shopping done and leave as soon as possible without staying to browse. You yourself say they will spend at the most an hour in a shop. People often want to spend a lot longer than an hour enjoying a meal out with friends. It’s not so easy to leave a restaurant when you are in the middle of a meal and the music is suddenly turned up and the staff refuse to turn it down when asked. This happened to me a couple of months ago and to a friend just last week. Each time we found the music so stressful and we could no longer hold a conversation so we did get up and leave in the middle of our meals. This meant our meals were completely spoiled and we will never return to those particular restaurants. It’s important that restaurants provide their staff with deaf awareness courses and realise that, when customers ask to have the music turned down, they often have a genuine hearing problem and are not just being grumpy.

I fail to see why people who work in cafes, restaurants and bars should require music to make the day go by any more than people who work in offices or laboratories or hotels. The pleasure of serving customers well should be all the satisfaction they need [unless their attitude is “serves you right for coming here”].

@ John Ward says:
I fail to see why people who work in cafes ….
1)….. You have, of course worked in ”cafes, restaurants and bars”, doing these jobs involving being on your feet all day, clearing up others partially ingested, or digested, detritus, for below min. wage levels, topped up from ‘tips’ nicked by the boss and part used to top up your below Living Wage pay.
You have, haven’t you ? ?

2)….. What leads you to the conclusion that these exploited workers enjoy listening to the same old, same old, hour after hour after day after day after week …………., please?
I have done such jobs.
Sometimes they are HORRID, simply HORRID !

JosefKafka – This particular Conversation is all about music in cafes, restaurants and bars, but I invite you to read the other related Conversations about music in restaurants and music in shops and then the context of my comments will become clear. A major theme was how music affected people who were disabled by virtue of varying degrees of hearing impairment but for whom there was little relief unlike for people suffering from other disabilities where shops and other places were more conscientious.

My impression is that many more correspondents were sympathetic to the needs of people with hearing impairment who found music stressful, and sometimes harmful, than to the needs of shop and restaurant workers who themselves appeared to be unsympathetic to the discomfort and mental strain of those for whom extraneous music made it hard to hear people talking to them, and imposed stressful conflicting sound sources on their hearing if they needed to use an amplification device.