How To Choose A Restaurant When You Have Hearing Loss

My favorite restaurant recently underwent a large renovation. It was necessary, as the place definitely needed an update, but I was crushed. This restaurant was my family’s haven from noise. Every Friday night, almost without fail, we enjoyed a quiet, stress free, delicious meal in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. And none of us had to worry about my hearing loss. Were we going to have to find a new place?

The restaurant was old-school Italian. It had carpeting, acoustic tiles, fancy white tablecloths and waiters from Italy. The food was outstanding and the environment was perfect for our family — quiet. Whenever friends or relatives would visit from out of town, we would take them there. We barely even looked at the menu anymore. We didn’t need to.

But then they did the renovation. They removed the carpet and installed hardwood floors. They spiffed up the bar area adding more hard surfaces and swapped some of the cloth wallhangings for framed photos. We noticed the difference right away. The restaurant was now more visually appealing, but it was also no longer as quiet as it used to be.

The good news is that we have adapted and the restaurant has been very accommodating. We are now always seated along the wall or in the corner and they are happy to turn down any music if we ask. The food and warm atmosphere are the same and it remains my family’s safe-haven dining venue. It just requires a little more forward planning to make sure we request a good seat in advance.

This experience highlighted for me the key characteristics of a good restaurant for people with hearing loss and the importance, once again, of advocating for yourself.

Here are my tips for a successful experience when dining out.

1.  Provide information early. Note your desire for a quiet table in your reservation and remind the restaurant if they call to confirm. This gives them a better chance of meeting your needs than if you walk in cold. If they seat you at a less than ideal table at first, ask for a quieter spot. Persistence often pays off.

2. Request a table in the corner. A corner table or other location beside a wall works best since there is a barrier between you and the rest of the restaurant noise. This also eliminates distractions from noise behind you and lets you better focus on the speakers at the table. A booth is also often a good choice if it has high back seats.

3.  Choose restaurants with sound absorbing decor. Carpet, curtains, cushioned chairs, cloth tablecloths and acoustic tiles are my decor of choice. Many restaurants today prefer hard surfaces like glass and wood. Preview the decor online or look for “old school” restaurants which may have a more classic design.

4.  Read online reviews. Many restaurant rating systems now include noise level as one of the criteria. For example, Zagat now has a “Good for Quiet Conversation” search category. I am sure others do as well.

5.  Ask around. I like to trade restaurant tips with my hearing loss friends and also with my hearing friends. Once you hit a certain age, everybody wants a quiet restaurant!

Readers, do you have a go-to quiet restaurant in your neighborhood?

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54 thoughts on “How To Choose A Restaurant When You Have Hearing Loss

  1. Alas, Shari, we seem to be living in an age where “lights, sound, action!” seem to be the driving force in attracting dining patrons. I morn the loss of your “old” dining experience. I read somewhere, that I can not recall, that the trend is research driven. Glitzy noisy places tend to move people in and out faster thereby increasing table earnings exponentially. That’s hard to argue with in the competitive dining world. I can not, however, escape the notion that there are many of us out here who would flock to your quieter “old favorite”. When I go out (less frequently now and growing more so) I go not for stimulation, but for the food and, for want of a better term, a “comfortable” experience.

    I agree that asking for consideration in seating really works. Sometimes it doesn’t work too well but it does send a message that, hopefully, will someday be heard.

  2. On a recent trip to Boston with my husband, I did a web search for ” quiet Boston restaurants”. I came across a link to the local Boston chapter of the HLAA:
    They provided a great list of several restaurants in the city with quiet atmospheres. We tried two of the restaurants on their list. Both lived up to their promise and we had a nice dinner and great conversation both nights.
    I hope in the future more HLAA chapters provide this sort of information for the benefit of both their local members and to visitors with hearing loss.

  3. Great blog Shari. I’m the CEO of Action on Hearing Loss in the UK (the new name for the Royal National Institute for Deaf People) and we are just about to launch a campaign around noise and accesibility for people with hearing loss in restaurants. It would be great to keep in touch about this and share experiences from the US and UK – if you are interested then find me on Twitter @pbreckell or e-mail me

  4. This is helpful to think about. BTW, have you heard of a show called “Switched at Birth?” It’s family drama about two families with teen daughters. (Yes, their lives connect when they learn the two were–wait for it–switched at birth). I find surprisingly appealing. Anyway, I mention it because some of the characters are hard of hearing. The show makes me realize how hard of hearing people are nonexistent on TV. It’s SO refreshing to have these individuals featured along with the hearing characters.

  5. I know I say this to you frequently but thank you thank you thank you. This is something I tried to consider with regards to my sister but I didn’t have the tools or information I really needed.

  6. Thanks for all the tips. My husband, usually a vibrant center of every conversation, has been losing his hearing (hearing aids help up to a point and, of course, not particularly well in restaurants). and really struggles to follow conversation–no less join in–in restaurants. So difficult to find one where you can have a grown up conversation without shouting and where he isn’t picking up ambient noise. We usually request a quiet table when we book a table, as you suggest. I’m going to check out HLAA and see if they have a guide to quiet places in the Washington, D.C. area where I live.

  7. The loss of carpeting is huge in letting the noise out. I have seen reviews on Yelp that mention a restaurant is noisy or loud. I been in a few that have said that and almost yelling is needed!

  8. Love this Shari. Even without hearing loss, I get very stressed in a noisy restaurant and it seems like so many of the ‘cool’ places have hard surfaces everywhere. We have a new place in our town that installed sound absorbing panels in the ceiling, making it part of the decor and it is delightful. Hardwood floors and conversation make a great combo. Great post.

  9. Hi…I have a hearing loss and find it difficult to go out to eat…I have recently lost more hearing. the noise makes it hard….thanks..any suggestions. ..

  10. Thank you for your wonderful blog. This post in particular is such a useful idea. I have included a link to it from the resources page of my website as I think that it is so helpful and unique. Many thanks!

  11. Wow, I had never thought about simply asking for a corner table. I have hearing loss, and want to find a place where I can hear my kids while eating dinner. I hadn’t thought about asking for a corner table, but I can see how it would be much quieter. Thanks for the advice!

  12. There is a great new smart phone app called iHEARu that will allow you to sample sounds at restaurants and other venues and it will then be given a “hearing loss friendly” rating to allow hard of hearing or deaf customers to make better informed choices.

  13. I was in a car accident about two months ago that left me with some substantial hearing loss, and this can sometimes make it difficult to have conversations. I am planning a business meeting over lunch for next week, so I want to make sure I choose the right restaurant so I can hear. You make a great point that I should request a table in the corner so that there is a barrier between us and the rest of the restaurant. This way it will block out a lot of the noise.

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