/ 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?.


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.

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.

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.

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 .

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

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.

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’.

@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?

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

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)

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.

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.

Ian W says:
24 December 2016

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

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.

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

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?

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.

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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.

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.

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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!!!!