How to Hear in a Noisy Restaurant

Yes you can improve your restaurant experience

As summer comes to an end, those of us with hearing loss are once again faced with the restaurant problem. Restaurant noise is the number one complaint I hear about hearing loss, and it’s high on Zagat’s list as well, which suggests that it’s not just those with hearing loss who dislike restaurant noise pollution.


The good news is that some restaurant owners are finally getting the message that diners don’t necessarily love noise. The bad news is that change is not coming soon enough.

As long as the idea of soundproofing a restaurant is still in the idea phase, dining out will remain an experience that rarely includes both eating and conversation.

So what can you do to improve the restaurant experience?

Choose The Right Restaurant:

I’ve learned ― from experience, and from friends ― how to optimize hearing when eating out.

Before you even make a reservation, google the name of the restaurant and “noise.” That will give you an idea if the food and décor are worth sacrificing conversation for. Zagat publishes a list of “Quiet Conversation” restaurants in many cities.

Carpeting on the floor, acoustic tiles on the ceiling, curtains on the windows and tablecloths are all a good sign. So are booths.

Choose The Right Table:

Most people with hearing loss will do better if they sit in a corner, or with their back to the wall. But for some with directional microphones, it’s better to sit with your back to the noise. Try it both ways and see which works better for you.

Sit far away from the entrance, the kitchen, the bussing station and the bar.

Avoid Banquettes:

The tables are usually close together and it’s hard not to overhear conversations on either side of you, even if you can’t understand them.

Especially avoid sitting next to a party of four or six, and even more so if they’re businessmen. (Businesswomen, in my opinion, tend not to be so loud.) The more people at the table the louder the conversation.

Choose The Right Seat:

Whether back to the wall or back to the room works better for you, it’s also important that the space is lit well enough to allow you to see the speaker. Don’t sit facing a sunny window, because you won’t be able to see the speaker, silhouetted against the light. Choose a round table if possible, so you can see all the speakers’ faces.

Be Prepared:

Look on the restaurant’s website to preview the menu. Ask the waiter to give you a written list of the specials.

Be Honest:

Tell your fellow diners, the host or hostess, the waiter and anyone else you encounter that you are hard of hearing. Ask them to speak one at a time, and slowly.

Enjoy Your dinner:

Even with all these tips, some people with hearing loss may still not be able to hear well in a restaurant. Try not to get frustrated. Take your hearing aid off if it’s just too noisy. Enjoy the food, enjoy being with friends, duck out to the restroom for noise relief, or even out of doors. Leave early if it’s all just too much for you. Ask for a doggy bag!

Finally, if you want a quiet restaurant, eat early in the evening and early in the week. I know, I know … It’s beginning to sound like the early bird special.


Katherine Bouton is the author of “Living Better With Hearing Loss: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends … and Hearing Aids,” and a memoir, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You.” Both available on Amazon.com.

Published Date: 1st September 2016