What Noise Does to Our Appetites

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Indoor dining in public, remember that? If restaurants seem like a distant relic of the pre-COVID era, they might start to seem better than they really were. But don't forget, sometimes going out to eat isn't worth the stress of it all. Even if you're relying on takeout more than your own cooking, you might be enjoying your meals more now in the quiet of your own home.

That's what acoustic engineers at Australia's Flinders University may be suggesting in a newly published study. Noisy restaurants, it turns out, have a measurable effect on how much we enjoy a meal, and it's not for the better. "Our study not only shows that relaxing music at low noise levels increases food enjoyment, but indicates that even 'normal' background noise levels in restaurants can be unpleasant to diners," said lead author Mahmoud Alamir.

For an audio portrait of just how loud restaurants have been getting over recent decades, helped along by design trends that emphasize bare interiors and hard surfaces, check out the Twenty Thousand Hertz episode "Dining on Decibels." While Alamir's research found that women, older individuals, and people with noise sensitivity reported the most discomfort in loud bars and restaurants, one doesn't need to fit these demographics to shy away from sustained and stressful noisy environments.

This isn't the only way that establishments manipulate your surroundings (ever notice how high-end shops tend to be freezing cold?), but once it's safe to dine indoors with strangers again, this is an everyday force in our lives that could be ripe for change.