I've lived in NYC since birth, so you might think I wouldn't have a hard time with noise. It's always been part of my life, but restaurants used to be a lot quieter than they are now. The noise isn't just an annoyance; in some places it can reach dangerous levels, according to standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The noise is generated by the restaurant's sound system and people talking, in an acoustic setting too often designed to exacerbate and reflect, rather than absorb noise. Bare floors and tables, and lots of hard, reflective surfaces all contribute to high sound levels. Screaming has replaced talking, but that just adds to the excitement of the experience, doesn't it?
Many NYC restaurants, bars, and gyms have noise levels of 90+ decibels, and maximum exposure at that level according to NIOSH should not exceed 2.5 hours. At even louder volume, say 95 dB, the maximum exposure time is 47 minutes. A New York Times article from last summer cited many restaurants and bars in the city with even higher noise levels. One gym averaged noise levels of 100 dB for 40 minutes. The people who work in these places that have prolonged and repeated exposure to loud noise are at the greatest risk of permanent hearing loss.
If you regularly experience "ringing" in your ears, that's not a good sign. Take heed or suffer the consequences. If you want to see (or hear) where you stand right now, check out my blog covering a do-it-yourself hearing test CD. Or visit an audiologist. You can also check the "age" of your ears.
The fact is the ambient noise levels in restaurants and bars is getting louder all the time, precisely because the intensity of sound pumps up the energy of the room. Some say that's good for business, other folks are put off by the din. That would include me. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.