Over 48 million Americans struggle with minor to severe hearing loss. What do these millions of people complain about the most? Not being able to hear in restaurants. Dining out plays an important role in our culture. Whether it’s celebrating a friend’s birthday, taking a loved one on a special date, or meeting a colleague to discuss business – being able to enjoy (and hear) a conversation at a restaurant is essential for most of us.
When you start to struggle with hearing loss, a common response is to gradually isolate yourself. As hearing and comprehending conversations become more and more difficult, your instinct is to avoid those situations that make you uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this response often leads to feelings of loneliness and depression. There has to be a better option!
The good news is that you don’t have to avoid dining out when you’re experiencing hearing loss, whether minor or severe. We have lots of tips to share with you so that you can continue enjoying these special (and necessary) times with your friends, family, and colleagues.
There’s no shame in calling ahead and setting yourself up for success. Make sure the restaurant you’re dining at isn’t doing a live music show that night. Ask about quiet seating options. Let them know you have difficulty hearing, and if they have any suggestions to make your dining experience enjoyable. Most restaurants will happily accommodate you and appreciate the heads up.
Make reservations for an earlier hour. Most restaurants experience a rush around 7:00 p.m. If you can plan your meal closer to 5:00 p.m., you can avoid the loudest times at the restaurant. And who doesn’t love a good happy hour? Or, you could even consider doing a celebratory weekday breakfast or brunch when restaurants are quite a bit slower.
Read the reviews
Many online restaurant rating systems include “noise level” as one of their criteria. When you’re searching online for a restaurant, look for things like “good for quiet conversation.” Check out photos online and look for restaurants that have carpets, drapes, and separate seating areas. All of these help to buffer sound and create a quieter environment.
Where you sit in a restaurant makes a huge difference in how much you are able to hear. Try not to sit close to the kitchen, near the hostess stand or cashier, or next to the restroom or entryways, where there is excessive background noise. When you make a reservation or upon arriving at a restaurant, ask if you can be seated in a quiet area. Let the hostess know that you have difficulty hearing and that you’d like to sit in a more private location, if possible.
In order to maximize your hearing, place yourself in a way that eliminates as much noise and confusion as possible. If you use hearing aids with directional microphones, try to sit where most of the surrounding noise is behind you. If you don’t use hearing aids, try to sit with your back to a wall in order to minimize noise from behind you.
Shed some light
Many restaurants dim the lights and use candles to create a peaceful ambience. If you rely on speech reading, this can pose a problem. Ask the waiter for more candles, or ask to be seated by a window if it’s light outside. Sit with your back to the window, so that your dining partner’s face is illuminated and the light isn’t in your eyes.
Adjust your expectations
Even people with normal hearing have a hard time hearing well in a noisy restaurant. Take a deep breath and know that it might be a little more difficult to have a conversation, but remind yourself why it’s important. Don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat themselves, and certainly don’t fake it! If you’re in a big group, don’t expect to hear every conversation around you. Make a point to have one-on-one conversations with the people you really wish to talk to.
Get some aid
Hearing aid technology has come a long, long way. In fact, many new hearing aids even have crowd settings that help direct your hearing so that it eliminates some of that background noise. If you haven’t had your hearing checked, do it. Hearing aids might be exactly what you need to make public experiences more enjoyable.
Go enjoy a night (or morning) on the town
These are all very simple ways to make your dining experience a success. With millions of Americans struggling with hearing loss, remember that you are not alone. So don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Whether that’s requesting that the music be turned down or asking for a quiet booth in a corner – remember that these are easy accommodations to be made so that you can enjoy your time.
It may require a bit more effort on your part, but isn’t it worth it? When it means getting to be a part of a special celebration or an intimate conversation or maybe even closing that deal… a little extra planning makes a world of difference.