Richard McKearney, MSc PhD, is an Audiology Adviser at national hearing loss charity RNID. Richard has been an audiologist since 2016 and has experience working in the NHS as a clinical audiologist and as a clinical researcher in audiology.

Why is loud music in restaurants a problem?

Excessively loud music in restaurants can make it challenging to have a conversation for all of us. This is especially true for the one in five people in the UK and who are deaf or have hearing loss. Due to dim lighting, challenging acoustic environments and a lack of deaf awareness among staff, deaf people and people with hearing loss may avoid eating out, leave early, or opt for a takeaway instead.

Why do you think venues have the music turned up so loud?

Music can add atmosphere to a dining setting. When people are chatting in a noisy place, they have to raise their voices in order to be heard, which in turn increases the background noise even more. This phenomenon is known as the Lombard effect. Some venues may feel that their music should be heard at a certain level above the chatter, and so end up setting the volume too loud, which in turn forces people to raise their voices to compete with the music.

Does it affect staff as well as customers?

Repeated or prolonged exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Staff may be more at risk than customers, as they are regularly exposed to the noise for longer periods of time. Employers should be aware of the risks to staff from continued exposure to loud noise and follow the appropriate regulations.

Are restaurants, cafes and pubs losing business as a result?

If people have an unpleasant experience in a restaurant, where they are unable to hear a conversation over the background noise, or cannot lipread due to dim lighting, they may decide not to return to the venue again. RNID’s Speak Easy report found that nearly 80% of people we surveyed have left a restaurant, café or pub early because of the noise.

What can restaurants do to counter the problem?

Whilst bare floors and walls, open kitchens and exposed ceilings might be popular in some restaurants, the sound waves in the room will bounce off hard surfaces creating a loud, echoey environment which makes listening harder. Venues can consider using softer materials to absorb sound such as carpet, tablecloths, and curtains. Installing partitions into open plan spaces can make it easier for people to hear their own conversation.

Creating designated quiet spaces can allow people to choose to sit in a quieter part of the venue, making it easier to enjoy conversation without the interference of background noise. Reducing other sources of background noise can also help. For example, you could consider using quieter air conditioning, extractor fans and other equipment to reduce distraction. Improving the lighting can help with communication for those who rely on lipreading and need to see people’s faces.

You can find out more about making your venue accessible at