Health & Gastronomy 31/01/2015

Noise and its impact on the perception of food and drink

Noise is currently the second most common complaint amongst restaurant-goers, behind poor service. In fact, over the last decade or two, many restaurants have become so loud that some critics now regularly report on the noise levels alongside the quality of the food

Restaurants are getting noisier. That, at least, is what the critics say. If the increase in noise levels is anything like as widespread as has been suggested in the media, then the question that we have to ask ourselves is why this should be so. According to some commentators, it is nothing more than the result of a decision by certain influential North American chefs to play the same music in the dining room that they were fond of listening to in the kitchen.

Oxford researchers first highlight the growing problem of noise in restaurants and bars and look at the possible causes.

Charles Spence then critically evaluates the laboratory-based research that has examined the effect of loud background noise on taste perception. He distinguishes between the effect of noise on the taste, aroma/flavour, and textural properties of food and drink. Taken together, the evidence now clearly demonstrates that both background noise and loud music can impair our ability to taste food and drink. It would appear that noise selectively impairs the ability to detect tastes such as sweet and sour while leaving certain other taste and flavour experiences relatively unaffected. Possible neuroscientific explanations for such effects are outlined, and directions for future research highlighted. Finally, having identified the growing problem with noise in restaurants,

Oxford researcher ends by looking at some of the possible solutions and touch on the concept of silent dining.

The available evidence suggests that the problem of too much noise while eating and drinking is affecting a growing number of us while dining out at popular restaurants and bars. While, to date, the majority of complaints have tended to come from the US, there is evidence that the problem is now spreading to many other Westernized countries as well. Indeed, the uncomfortably high background noise levels found in many restaurants are increasingly being recognized as a very real and pressing concern by restaurateurs, restaurant critics, audiologists, and the general public alike. What is more, research from the laboratory suggests that loud noise can indeed affect the taste, flavour, and texture of food, often in an adverse manner. Although a number of solutions to combating noise in the restaurant/bar setting are now available, they all tend to be fairly expensive to implement. Hence, unless the diners really start to make some noise of their own, it is doubtful whether anything much will change, especially given the financial incentives associated with keeping the music level cranked up high.

di T N