Have you noticed how difficult it is to have a normal conversation in many NYC restaurants these days? It seems that many restauranteurs are placing tables closer together, presumably, to maximize income. Many also favor hard surfaces on walls, ceilings and floors so sound doesn’t get as readily absorbed. Some even play background music. I’ve heard that higher ambient noise levels are markers of hipness and trendiness. The consequence of all this is that people have to talk even louder to hear each other across the table and have a normal conversation at the estimated 60 decibels. Just by way of reference, decibel levels above 85 are considered harmful and warrant earmuffs, or earplugs, to protect your hearing.
Of course, there are very posh Manhattan restaurants that favor quieter surroundings, with tables spaced further apart and softer surfaces to absorb sound. But they come with much higher price tags for a lunch or dinner. It seems we pay much more for quiet.
My friends have favored frequenting popular Manhattan restaurants at off-hours to try to avoid both crowds and high noise levels, with lunches planned for 2:00 pm or dinners at 5:00 pm. Of course, with that schedule, you really couldn’t work up much of an appetite if you did both in one day.
I have even known people who sat across from each other at a NYC restaurant and communicated in text messages, because verbal communication was extremely difficult.
If you’re really curious about restaurant decibel levels, you can buy a low-cost meter on Amazon for less that $20. However, it’s not entirely clear what you’d do with the high reading at any favorite restaurant, except avoid going or seeing what their Early Bird Special looks like. We could also look into bringing back the old-fashioned ear horn.