“Did you just call me a dork?” The evening is over before you can explain that you were just asking for the fork. Increasingly, such is the fate of many a dinner meeting, social or professional. Those seeking good eats are also finding good and loud beats. While no one can deny the importance of ambiance, the hair cells and the cognitive centers having to work extra hard to carry on a conversation while enjoying a meal are beginning to complain. A visit to any of the modern eateries makes clear that the decor of our times does not naturally lead itself to good acoustics. Elegant wood paneling and ample upholstery has gone from being classy to stodgy. Carpets have made way for hardwood and other solid-surface flooring. Ductwork is to be hidden no more. Instead the large pipe works and whimsical vent covers are painted as if they were a mural adorning the ceiling.
So how did we get here. Julia Belluz has recently put together a rather thoughtful piece related to this issue on Vox Media. In the article, Belluz starts with a personal experience but then turns her displeasure with the acoustics of a new restaurant in a church into an investigation of the history, evolution, sociology, and economics of noisy eateries. In the end, Belluz introduces the reader to two Apps to “fight back.” These are sound level meters that run on your phone and in one case incorporates a reporting function so you can inform the world about the acoustics of a restaurant.
We wanted our readers to know about two other Apps that we have used. The first iHearU runs on iOS and Android devices, shows eateries around you on a map (if any have been recorded) with information about their acoustics. Dependent on user input, the data are as rich as the information supply from the users of the App. While the density of information around where you are may not be high at this time, you could contribute to mapping the eateries around you as you visit them.
The second App we have used is venueDB. This iOS app uses the microphone on your phone to sample the acoustics in a restaurant (or anywhere else) and reports the A-weighted average sound pressure level, a recommended exposure limit, and an estimate of what percentage of individuals will find conversation to be difficult. You can share this information with others in the venueDB community.
There you have it. You should certainly eat where the food is good, but with these Apps you can also eat where the sound is to your liking as well.