These days, hearing your company during a meal at a restaurant can be hard regardless of your level of hearing. These rising noise levels are sometimes even intentional, as they create a lively feel and even help to move people out of tables faster. Modern restaurant design, with its minimalist approach, high ceilings, and hard surfaces has only exacerbated the issue.
Despite this, enjoying a restaurant meal with family, friends, or for business meetings can still be an enjoyable way to catch up and have important discussions. If you find yourself dreading these kinds of gatherings due to the frustrating struggle of trying to decipher what’s been said, read on. Below are some tried and true tips for making restaurant discussions more relaxed, clear, and enjoyable.
If you have any say in the restaurant your group chooses to dine at, try to select one that is conducive to hearing a conversation. You can find this out in several ways, but the simplest approach is to call whichever restaurants are being considered and ask them if they have a quiet atmosphere (or area of the restaurant) suitable for business meetings. This is a good question, even if you’re actually not planning on having a business meeting, as all hosts know that the ambient noise level needs to be fairly quiet for people to hold meetings at their establishments (which is why you rarely encounter loud music at restaurants during lunch hours). Another way to research the noise level is to visit a website that has reviews of restaurants (such as yelp.com or opentable.com) and search for keywords, like “noise.” The search function is under the “edit” menu for most browsers, and can help you find reviews that specifically describe the noise level of the establishment.
If at all possible, try to schedule your meal or meeting outside of peak hours. In the day, peak hours are usually between noon and 1:30pm, and in the evening they are usually between 6:00 and 7:30pm. These times can vary based on things like holidays and special events, but for most restaurants they are the norm. If in doubt, simply call the restaurant and ask when they typically have their slow hours.
If you’re able to, the first and possibly most important step to take to enhance your restaurant experience is to call ahead for a few simple requests. Begin by explaining that your party needs a quiet table in the restaurant and can’t be sat near the kitchen, bar, or any other extra-noisy area in the restaurant. Request a booth if they have one, as these can help create a sort of ‘pocket’ of reduced noise due to the soft cushions and often taller backs. Also check to see if any booths (or tables, if that’s all that is available) are situated along the perimeter of the restaurant walls. The noise in a loud room reverberates towards the center, so a perimeter table will help you find the quieter edges of all that sound. Be aware that these kinds of requests are common, nothing to be embarrassed about, and will make all the difference in your ability to hear better.
Choose Your Seat
It’s best to seat yourself so that your back faces the source of most of the noise in the room (and is another reason to try to get a table along the perimeter). Most hearing aids these days are equipped with background noise reduction technology and they assume that you’ll be facing sounds you want to hear. Assist this feature by positioning yourself in that way. Also consider where your company is seated and be open about asking anyone who will be speaking more to sit across from you. If there happens to be a wall opposite of you (assuming you did get a perimeter table), having your company sit with their backs to the wall will help amplify their voices towards you.
It’s also important to note that there are devices called ALDs, or assistive listening devices, that have been developed specifically to combat the challenges of hearing in noisy environments like restaurants. Specifically, personal FM systems are useful for these purposes. These involve a small FM microphone that can be placed in the center of the table while you wear a small receiver. The receiver can transmit directly to hearing aids, or can be a simple looped cord around your neck. Talk to your hearing professional to learn more about ALDs.