Say What? Oticon Study Reveals Which Top Foodie Cities Have the Noisiest Restaurants

Somerset, NJ
5 June 2018

One of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers raises awareness of the “restaurant dilemma” with new study on noisy restaurants in 10 key American foodie cities

If you think restaurants are getting noisier, you’re right. New industrial design elements that favor bare, hard surfaces, high ceilings, exposed ductwork, and open, expansive dining rooms, along with increasing crowds due to a strong economy, now make noise the number one complaint by diners, according to 2018 Zagat survey.

Those suffering the most are the 48 million Americans with hearing loss. Noisy restaurants with high levels of ambient sound make is nearly impossible for many baby boomers and others to follow a conversation at an increasing number of American eating establishments.

To uncover the scope of the problem, Oticon, maker of advanced hearing aids, commissioned mystery diners in 10 of America’s top food cities to secretly monitor the sound levels at 50 restaurants and document them using a sound level meter app on their iPhones™.

The study found that on average during peak Saturday night dining hours, diners were subjected to noise of 79.17 decibels (dB). That’s about as loud as a diesel train chugging along at 45 mph. Peak noise was even more debilitating, rising to as much as 133.40 dB in one Nashville restaurant. Try enjoying a conversation while sitting next to a blaring ambulance siren, which is roughly the noise equivalent.

The winners and losers
Which city had the loudest dining scene? Nashville topped the chart at 82.19 dB. As you might expect for Music City, live music was a contributing factor, as was the open or partially open kitchen design of restaurants.

And yet Austin, a city equally known for its great live music, had the quietest dining experience among cities measured at 75.60 dB.

Here’s how the cities ranked in order of average sound levels within popular restaurants:

  1. Nashville — 82.19 dB
  2. Portland — 81.92 dB
  3. Washington, D.C. — 80.44 dB
  4. Denver — 80.32 dB
  5. San Diego — 79.23 dB
  6. Chicago — 78.94 dB
  7. Detroit — 78.45 dB
  8. St. Louis — 78.14 dB
  9. Seattle — 76.51 dB
  10. Austin — 75.60 dB

For a complete list of how all cities and restaurants ranked, click here.

Overcoming the restaurant dilemma
Noise levels have become so intractable, that there’s now a term for it. It’s called the restaurant dilemma and it refers to the tricky balance restaurants perform in managing noise levels.

“We understand that a vibrant atmosphere attracts patrons, and a restaurant that’s too quiet can be uncomfortable for diners,” said Sheena Oliver, Vice President of Marketing at Oticon. “That’s one of the reasons we developed and integrated BrainHearing™ technology into our line of sophisticated Oticon Opn™ hearing aids. This technology distinguishes between speech and background noise, and enables wearers to identify where sounds are coming from even in a noisy restaurant environment. This allows hearing aid wearers to lock onto, follow, and engage with dining companions and enjoy all the great restaurants that were included in the study.”

In fact, Opn hearing aids have been shown to boost speech understanding by 30 percent*, while reducing listening effort by 20 percent* and remembering more of conversations by 20%.* They deliver a more natural, clear, and open sound, enabling wearers to more easily listen to and participate in conversations in crowded, noisy environments such as restaurants, public venues, or even live rock concerts.

For more information on the entire Oticon Opn family, visit

How the study was performed
Restaurants included in the Oticon study were selected from TripAdvisor’s top-rated restaurants in 10 American cities known for their restaurant scene, and excluded national chains. Mystery diners sampled each restaurant on Saturday, April 21, 2018 or Saturday, April 28, 2018 between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. local time. Mystery diners used the NIOSH Sound Level Meter app to take five one-minute decibel readings in the main bar area of each restaurant over the course of about one hour.

To learn more about Oticon’s restaurant study, visit


About Oticon
Oticon is one of the most innovative hearing device manufacturers with more than 110 years of experience putting the needs of people with hearing loss first. Oticon has spearheaded a number of technological breakthroughs, which have made a significant difference for people with hearing loss. Oticon’s “brain first” audiological focus recognizes that speech understanding and comprehension are cognitive processes that happen in the brain. Oticon’s innovative BrainHearing™ technology is helping to provide better hearing with less effort by giving the brain the clearest, purest sound signals to decode. Oticon designs and manufactures hearing solutions for adults and specialized pediatric instruments. People First is Oticon’s strongest and most valued commitment to empower people to communicate freely, interact naturally and participate actively. For more information visit

*Le Goff et al. 2016, Opn Clinical Evidence White Paper, Oticon, Inc.

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