One of the more frustrating elements that crops up in bad restaurant experiences is noise.
Most of us have been there: you carefully select a restaurant praised for its creative foods and professional staff, make a reservation, and, upon arrival, step into a room that sounds more like a Vegas club than an eating establishment. And unlike, say, bad food, which can be sent back or comped, the situation is out of your control. Even the most accommodating place can’t restructure its acoustic design during the dinner rush.
A new app called iHEARu can’t either, but it can help diners determine, ahead of time, the noise levels of different restaurants and avoid places that are too loud.
The free app measures the decibel level of all manner of public businesses and shops, but restaurants are a key target, according to Kelly Tremblay, founder of Lend An Ear, the company behind the app.
The iHEARu app is, like Yelp and its competitors, a compilation of crowdsourced reports from diners about the noise levels in different establishments. Users can leave comments about the general noisiness, but they can also measure the actual decibel level of a restaurant. Your smartphone’s microphone picks up the sound level in the restaurant and converts it into a color-coded rating on a bar scale. You can also provide more subjective ratings with the “what my ears say” option and in the user comments section.
Lend An Ear makes clear on its site that these levels are just estimates, and that numerous factors determine what’s “noisy” to a person. Sound levels can depend on your own hearing and can be influenced by the way a user holds their phone when recording the noise.
Still, many argue that restaurants are getting noisier. Decibel levels at restaurants rise above what audiologists consider safe. Levels above 70 decibels damage hearing over time, and many restaurants clock in around that number, and often higher. For workers at restaurants, noise has long been considered an occupational hazard. And while there have been previous attempts at apps that measure noise levels, most were deemed inaccurate during tests.
But, as Tremblay notes, “not all noise is bad.” At some restaurants, noise is part of the overall atmosphere, just like a cluttered decorating scheme. And sometimes, a noisy environment is the right fit for the dining occasion, like a milestone birthday party.
Lend An Ear has thought of all this, and it’s one reason their app measures noise levels in 30-minute increments. So that restaurant that sounds like a Vegas club by night may be the perfect place to host a business lunch during the day.
The app just launched in San Francisco, and there are already plans for launch in New York, Portland, Seattle, and Washington D.C.