There’s Yelp for reviews and OpenTable for reservations, but now, there’s an app designed for the one thing we all want from restaurants and bars: some peace and quiet.
In April 2017, SoundPrint was born. It’s an app devoted to helping people find their quiet place, based on user-submitted reviews of sound levels at restaurants, cafes and bars — or, in their words, a “Yelp for noise.”
Using the app, users can search for venues based on noise levels, from quiet cafes (70 decibels or lower) to louder venues like clubs or bars (81 decibels or higher, sounds above 85 are considered unsafe for hearing health). The app’s data is crowdsourced; it allows users to measure a venue’s decibel level using their phone’s built-in microphone, “rate” the sound and submit the information to SoundPrint’s database.
According to Greg Scott, the app’s creator, SoundPrint was born out of his own personal needs. “Dating in New York City can be tough on its own,” he said by phone. “But because I have hearing loss, trying to find a quiet venue is very important to me. That way you can hear somebody; you can connect with them — you’re not spending your time guessing what they’re saying.”
Scott initially created the crowdsourced app for others with hearing loss, but his inbox swelled with responses from people without hearing impairment. The app now spans over 2,000 cities with some 40,000 reviews, he said. The app also includes a number of “quiet lists” — lists that include restaurants approved by sound-sensitive users. In New York City, Loi Estiatorio is a Greek restaurant featured on one of these lists for its quieter setting, as is Burp Castle, a pub where shouting is prohibited.
In November 2017, Scott compiled a report of over 2,250 reviews from the app that included different sound levels at restaurants and bars in New York City and discovered the sound ranged, on average, between 78 and 81 decibels — roughly, the equivalent of a passing freight train. Sounds of this magnitude pose actual health concerns.
The same study also found sound varied at restaurants, depending on cuisine. Indian and Chinese restaurants registered an average of 73 decibels, compared to Mexican, Latin American and American restaurants which registered between 79 and 80 decibels. Scott said a combination of background music and ambient noise played a role. “People have to talk over the background noise and raise their voice, and when that happens, other people raise their voice and it just keeps getting higher and higher.” Some studies suggest noise can adversely affect how you taste your food, and one study found louder music can lead to drinking more.
For now, Scott said he hopes the app will raise awareness about the effects of noise pollution, and that restaurants incorporate better acoustic design elements, like fewer cavernous spaces where sound can escape, to become inclusive — and benefit their bottom line, too. “If a place is noisy, [they] complain to the hostess and they don’t go back. [Restaurants] don’t know the cause and effect,” he said. “If people knew there [were] places they could go to have a conversation, they [would] go back.”