/ Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure

Had enough of the festive din?

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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.


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?.


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.

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. )

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.!!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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?

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.

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.

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:

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.

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 !

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.

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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

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