Katherine Endacott and her husband, Richard, used to enjoy eating out -- so much so they wrote two dining books, “Eating Nebraska” (1990) and “Second Helpings: More Eating Nebraska” (1996).
That’s not the case today for the local couple.
In responding to a Facebook post from the Journal Star asking about loud restaurants, Katherine Endacott, 66, called noise levels “very frustrating, especially in fine dining establishments” in Lincoln.
“We do not eat out regularly anymore because the experience is poor,” she said. “We would go out more often if there was a quiet place with first-rate food.”
She’s not alone. The following is a rundown of Facebook, Twitter and email comments from other local diners about loud restaurants.
* A noisy restaurant makes conversation difficult, and, as far as I am concerned, degrades the enjoyment of even outstanding food.”
* Noise is a prevailing problem for many of us: rooms are poorly designed and furnished, music is piped in, conversational levels increase to compensate. The result is a noisy environment that is unpleasant and difficult for many of us.”
* The sports bars here in Lincoln are the worst. For some reason they seem to think that the volume has be up to full blast all the time.”
* My husband and I are so DONE with these restaurants with polished concrete floors. I don’t even have hearing aids and can barely have a conversation with the person across the table.”
* It’s easier to say where you have NOT experienced too much noise.
And my favorite:
* “In a large group at a noisy restaurant, I tend to nod a lot and hope I haven’t agreed to watch someone’s dog for the weekend.”
Restaurant noise is a national issue as well.
Zagat surveyed more than 9,000 diners across the country for its 2016 report asking them, among other things, for their dining irritants and pet peeves. Noise (25 percent) was second, behind service (28 percent). It was No. 1 in cities including Portland, Oregon (33 percent), New York City (32 percent), Boston (30 percent) and San Francisco (26 percent).
Interestingly, a San Francisco newspaper publishes decibel levels with its dining reviews and has done so for more than 10 years.
This came in the wake of a 2000 study by two audiologists at the University of California in San Francisco who measured noise levels in five different San Francisco restaurants and found average levels ranged from 50 to 90 decibels on the “A” scale (an expression of the relative loudness of sounds in air as perceived by the human ear). Normal conversation is 45 to 50 dBA. And in some cases, the noise level reached 110 dBA, comparable to a loud dance club.
So why are restaurants so loud?
University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering professor and acoustics specialist Lily Wang said it comes down to materials and layout.
Restaurants no longer use noise-dampening soft furniture, tablecloths and carpeting, opting instead for easy-to-maintain concrete floors, high ceilings, large windows and contemporary wood-and-metal furnishings. Open kitchens, with chefs and cooks banging and clanging their pots and pans, also are in vogue.
“And so after a restaurant is open and have had complaints that it’s too loud, they’ll come and ask me if there’s some magical material they can spray on,” Wang said. “My answer to that is ‘no.’ It’s going to be costly at that point.”
A diner’s age also is a factor, Wang said, noting it’s a “very common thing for people to begin losing their high-frequency hearing.”
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders say age-related hearing loss or presbycusis gradually occurs in most people as they age. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. Approximately one in three people in the U.S. between 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing, according to the institute.
“As we get older, we’re much more aware of (noise),” Wang said.
Many Lincoln restaurants realize noise is an issue, and many of them have addressed it.
Marci Davison said Carmela’s Bistro and Wine Bar "was so darn loud we couldn't hear the customers" when she opened it in June 2008.
"It was driving us crazy.”
At the time, the restaurant featured slick concrete, blank walls and high ceilings.
“The sound didn’t know where to go to,” said Davison, who installed ceiling tiles, sound panels, curtains and rugs after consulting with a sound technician. “There’s still some chatter, but you can’t hear the conversation next to you anymore.”
Venue Restaurant and Lounge, with its domed ceiling and open kitchen, was notorious among diners for noise.
“Darn that Venue,” one diner wrote in a Twitter post. “Great food, nice looking, but can get quite loud.”
Co-owner Jeff Barclay recently hired a company to deal with the problem. Within the past four months, Venue has installed sound boards in the domed dining area as well as in the servers’ station.
“We’re definitely on a mission,” said Barclay. "We want to figure this out.”
Jason Shaw's Lincoln company, DTX Digital Theater Experts, addressed sound problems at Toast in Fallbrook, Mr. Goodcents at 16th Street and Old Cheney Road and Scooter’s at 84th and Van Dorn streets.
A musician, Shaw said he's more picky about noise than most people.
“I’m always listening. When you’re going out to eat, you’re going for the experience, not just the food. You often pay a lot of money for that. It’s not very enjoyable if you can’t hear the conversation or the waiter or the background music.”
DTX installed sound-absorbing acoustic panels at Toast, which has cement floors, large windows and high ceilings. Co-owner Wendy Young said they have helped.
“I’ve gotten feedback from our guests -- and we have a lot of regulars at Toast -- and they say it’s much more comfortable now,” Young said.
But, she said, “you don’t want it too quiet” either. Venue’s Barclay agreed.
“We love our ambiance,” he said. “Guests love the ambiance. The trick is finding the right amount of noise that isn’t too distracting. You don’t want to dampen all the noise. That’s part of the experience and the environment.”
Katherine Endacott and her husband get that. Dining out is supposed be social, but it can be difficult to be social when you can’t hear the person across from you.
“We are staying and entertaining more at home now because it’s quieter and easier to talk,” she said. “The whole point is spending time with the people we care about. Dining at some places makes it difficult. Boy, I wish it was the other way.”