My favorite restaurant recently underwent a large renovation. It was necessary, as the place definitely needed an update, but I was crushed. This restaurant was my family’s haven from noise. Every Friday night, almost without fail, we enjoyed a quiet, stress free, delicious meal in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. And none of us had to worry about my hearing loss. Were we going to have to find a new place?
The restaurant was old-school Italian. It had carpeting, acoustic tiles, fancy white tablecloths and waiters from Italy. The food was outstanding and the environment was perfect for our family — quiet. Whenever friends or relatives would visit from out of town, we would take them there. We barely even looked at the menu anymore. We didn’t need to.
But then they did the renovation. They removed the carpet and installed hardwood floors. They spiffed up the bar area adding more hard surfaces and swapped some of the cloth wallhangings for framed photos. We noticed the difference right away. The restaurant was now more visually appealing, but it was also no longer as quiet as it used to be.
The good news is that we have adapted and the restaurant has been very accommodating. We are now always seated along the wall or in the corner and they are happy to turn down any music if we ask. The food and warm atmosphere are the same and it remains my family’s safe-haven dining venue. It just requires a little more forward planning to make sure we request a good seat in advance.
This experience highlighted for me the key characteristics of a good restaurant for people with hearing loss and the importance, once again, of advocating for yourself.
Here are my tips for a successful experience when dining out.
1. Provide information early. Note your desire for a quiet table in your reservation and remind the restaurant if they call to confirm. This gives them a better chance of meeting your needs than if you walk in cold. If they seat you at a less than ideal table at first, ask for a quieter spot. Persistence often pays off.
2. Request a table in the corner. A corner table or other location beside a wall works best since there is a barrier between you and the rest of the restaurant noise. This also eliminates distractions from noise behind you and lets you better focus on the speakers at the table. A booth is also often a good choice if it has high back seats.
3. Choose restaurants with sound absorbing decor. Carpet, curtains, cushioned chairs, cloth tablecloths and acoustic tiles are my decor of choice. Many restaurants today prefer hard surfaces like glass and wood. Preview the decor online or look for “old school” restaurants which may have a more classic design.
4. Read online reviews. Many restaurant rating systems now include noise level as one of the criteria. For example, Zagat now has a “Good for Quiet Conversation” search category. I am sure others do as well.
5. Ask around. I like to trade restaurant tips with my hearing loss friends and also with my hearing friends. Once you hit a certain age, everybody wants a quiet restaurant!
Readers, do you have a go-to quiet restaurant in your neighborhood?