Who doesn’t remember the Fawlty Towers episode, A Room with a View, and the tangible frustration of both Basil and his hard of hearing guest as they failed totally to communicate with each other? Oh, how we laughed. But it did also highlight a serious issue. There can’t be many front of house staff who haven’t encountered customers with hearing impairments and shared Fawlty’s frustration.

And let’s face it, when eating out who hasn’t struggled sometimes to hear what their dining companions are saying or catch clearly the specials that the waiter is trying to describe.

Recent research conducted by Action on Hearing Loss shows that three-quarters (76%) of people with hearing loss would visit more cafés, pubs and restaurants if noise levels were lower, while similarly high numbers (77%) have left a venue because it was too noisy.

The charity, formerly known as RNID, is launching a campaign to work with the industry to make eating out a better all round experience for people with hearing loss and their companions.

The charity’s 17,000 members said this was the issue they wanted it to campaign on. And with 11 million people (one in six of the population), living with hearing loss, this is a really significant number of potential customers hospitality is alienating.

Background music is one of the biggest bugbears, but Gorki Durhra from Action on Hearing Loss, says the issue goes much wider than this.

He says the charity wants to work with the industry to look at simple ways of improving the acoustics as well as ensuring music is kept to below 50 decibels, to ensure that everyone enjoys their meal, as well as the conversation. Research by the charity reveals that noise levels ranked second only to the quality of a venue’s food, when people are choosing their dining destination.

The charity has produced come simple tips for restaurants looking to make some quick improvements which we can share below:

  • Reduction of background music: as above plus ensuring speakers are placed in appropriate place
  • Reduction of environmental noise: tablecloths, carpets, soft surface and noise absorbing wall and ceiling panels can all help cut noise
  • Adequate lighting: For many people with hearing loss, lipreading is a vital communication skill, particularly in noisier environments. A well-lit venue is necessary for customers reliant on lipreading to be able to follow conversation and communicate effectively.
  • Provision of hearing loops
  • Designated quiet areas: These can be areas with tables spaced further apart, fitted with hearing loop systems, NO music and adequate lighting.

If you’d like more information on how you can better meet the needs of your customers with hearing loss, contact [email protected]

By coincidence, staff at Hawksmoor’s Spitalfields site have just completed training in British Sign Language, to help them communicate better with each other and with their deaf and hard of hearing customers.