Notes from the Sandwich Generation
by HomesRenewed Policy Strategist Kristin Amerling*
As with many elements of aging well, the built environment has an impact on “normal” activities with loved ones. This includes the basic pleasure of going out to dinner in a restaurant. Design and atmosphere, sound bouncing off the walls or ceiling, and loud music coupled with a common element of the aging process, hearing difficulty, can make this activity challenging.
One of the benefits of visits from my parents is that I now have a good working knowledge of virtually all the quiet restaurants in my city. Since at least one of my parents is slightly hard of hearing, finding a place where we can hear each other and have a good conversation is the only way we all enjoy eating out. And I might add, even when we are by ourselves, my husband and I find ourselves gravitating toward these places. Even when you aren’t hard of hearing, it is a big plus to be able to talk to each other without having to shout across a table!
It’s been relatively easy for me to locate quiet local venues because I live in Washington, DC, where the restaurant critic for the Washington Post has long included decibel ratings in his reviews.
The quest has been more challenging, however, outside our city limits. Here is how we have found our way to conversation-friendly space in the two mid-sized cities my parent live in, Portland, Maine, and Stuart, Florida.
I found that several of the on-line resources I expected to have information about “quiet” restaurants do not provide what is needed. Disappointingly, the website for Zagat’s restaurant guide discontinued its “quiet conversation” search function. I am mystified about this decision since hearing loss is common as people get older, and many people across younger generations desire acoustics that enable conversation without yelling. Similarly, Yelp and TripAdvisor do not have a separate search function for quiet seekers. Hearing Loss Journal directed me to Chowhound.com, but this site does not have a way to search within specified geographic areas.
There is, however, a “quiet restaurants” search option within Open Table, one of several online table reservation services. So if your locality is included in this resource, you may be in luck. For example, when I run searches in Open Table using this criteria for Washington, DC, I’m presented with many options. No such luck when searching the area in Florida where my parents live, as the site does not offer this criteria there. Other table reservation services such as Resy.com and Reserve.com do not seem to have a mechanism to filter based on acoustics.
The wave of the future may be applications such as “Soundprint” and “IHearU” (I found these two and there may be others). These are apps for your phone that collect and publish decibel data. With both, users can use the application to measure the decibel level where they are currently located, and search the app’s database by geographic region and venue name for decibel data others have shared. Soundprint launched last year and as of August 2017 claimed it already had 3,000 reviews in New York City alone.
Based on my search, however, by March 2018 neither app had populated its databases with acoustics reviews in the regions where I was searching, Portland, Maine, and Stuart, Florida.
Another issue, of course, is that not every older adult, or even their middle-aged kids, uses Smartphone as a data source. And they may not want to.
So, with all that in mind, here is how I have gotten the best results. For a recent search for Portland, Maine, I started with a simple Google search for “Portland” and “quiet restaurants,” which turned up a 2018 article from Foursquare.com summarizing 15 top quiet places and a “quiet places to meet” list of 68 places by Yelp. I narrowed these lists by cross-checking them with an additional search in Opentable.com for restaurants in Portland using the “quiet conversation” filter (resulting in 8 choices).
A similar general Google search for Stuart, Florida led me to two restaurants which customers had praised for quiet dining experiences in TripAdvisor reviews.
If you are not relying on the Internet, good old-fashioned visual cues can help you find a restaurant that could be good for conversations. Look for dining areas with carpeting, coverings on the walls, and ceilings with insulating materials (see options pictured in this article). If you walk into a place with a concrete floor, bare walls, or an open kitchen you might want to turn around and look elsewhere, as it is likely this establishment is seeking to amplify, not reduce ambient noise.
It’s also worth noting that the same kinds of design considerations that make for good restaurant acoustics can create more social and enjoyable spaces in our own homes. Wall tapestries, acoustic tiles, and carpeting, among other options, are worth exploring.
Hope this helps you and your families enjoy and hear each other for many meals to come!
*HomesRenewed Policy Strategist Kristin Amerling does it all: Incredible legislative experience and reputation, innovative elderlaw attorney, respected political advocate, wife, mother and adult child in regular contact with her parents. In this post Kristin contributes to the HomesRenewed team blog wearing one of the hats from within the balancing act of these roles.