By Johanna Taylor, Senior Campaigner, Action on Hearing Loss

As the UK’s largest hearing loss charity (formerly called RNID), we campaign on behalf of the UK’s 11 million people with hearing loss. We’re launching our Speak Easy campaign, encouraging restaurants to create a more welcoming environment for all of their customers.

Speak Easy was developed after an overwhelming number of our supporters called on us to campaign to improve access to restaurants, cafes and pubs.

We wanted to get to the heart of the problem, so we carried out a major survey completed by 1,461 people. The message we got back was clear: background noise is by far the biggest problem our respondents face when eating out. This includes background music and environmental noise such as the clattering of cutlery, chairs scraping on floors, all adding to the noise created by a room full of people. 80% have had difficulty holding a conversation due to noise levels, and 92% want venues to change this.

Our survey showed that it’s not just those with hearing loss who are affected – 84% of respondents without hearing loss cited noise level as an important factor when choosing where to dine out.

And we found that the impact of noise goes far beyond a minor annoyance; it can exclude restaurant-goers from their friends, family and communities. Susan, from Westcliff on Sea, said “Eating out is one of life’s pleasures. It’s meant to be sociable and fun, but often I end up feeling excluded because of the noise.”

Nearly 80% of respondents told us they’d left a venue early due to the noise and 91% said they wouldn’t return to a noisy venue.

But there is some good news:  three out of every four respondents said they’d visit more restaurants, cafés and pubs if noise levels were lower. Cecilia from London said: “We always thank the manager if a venue is quiet… and try to keep going back”

Simple steps

The Speak Easy campaign isn’t calling for silence, but we’re encouraging restaurants to consider simple ways to allow customers to enjoy a good conversation in a welcoming atmosphere.

Some of these – such as turning down background music to a comfortable level – are cost-free. Other low-cost solutions include introducing speaker-free zones or adding softer furnishings such as table cloths, rugs and cushions to absorb sound.

So, next time you go out to eat, and you’re struggling to make yourself heard, communicate with the waiter or understand what your dining companions are saying, suggest they might like to take some simple measures to turn down the volume, so you can Speak Easy and they don’t hear a deafening silence as customers leave in their droves.

Please click here for the full report for our full findings.