Speaking of technology, I've been known to reach out to my dining partner with a quick text if it's too loud to talk.

What kind of noise annoys a diner?

By Robin Garr

What is the advantage to a restaurant so loud that you can’t easily chat with your partner or maybe even hear yourself think? Maybe someone out there finds this exciting and attractive, but I haven’t found anyone yet who’s a fan.

And yet, based on my own experience, talks with food-loving friends, and queries from readers, ear-shattering background noise is a near-constant element in dining out.

It’s not happening only in Louisville, either. Visitors returning from New York City speak of restaurants so thunderous that they make Louisville at Derby time seem tame. The Washington Post got a lot of attention in a June 2 article, why restaurants are so loud, and what science says we can do about it, delving deeply into the art and science of restaurant noise. To discover more, you can read the article at this paywall-free gift link.

Diners here need no instruction from elsewhere to push back. In a quick social-media crowd-sourcing survey, about 50 responses unanimously responded with varying degrees of anger and disappointment. Amid talk of negative reviews and talks with management, many said they refuse to ever return to a too-noisy eatery. A handful spoke of boxing their uneaten meal and departing the premises.

Restaurant noise has been a source of complaints for a long time, although when we think back to the bygone days of memorable local spots like Hasenour’s, the Old House, Casa Grisanti, and many more, we remember them as buzzy but not deafening.

Thinking back, it seems to me that noise inflation got serious in trendy Louisville eateries within the past 10 or 12 years. In 2012 I was startled when the roar at then-new Silver Dollar prompted a friend and me to text across the table because we could not hear each other.

A couple of years later, in a review headlined What? I can’t heeeaaarrr you! I dinged the otherwise excellent new LouVino on Bardstown Road for near-unbearable noise:

“Okay, I know that noise is in. If you’re looking for a quiet, romantic dinner venue in Louisville’s trendy dining scene, I can point you to maybe three or four places where you’ll probably be able to hear yourself think, provided you don’t draw a set of neighbors who forgot to bring their indoor voices.

But hard edges and a happy crowd that packs the place nightly kicks LouVino up another volume notch, cranking it even beyond its Bardstown Road and NuLu neighbors. I whipped out my iThing’s “dBMeter” app and took a quick reading: 92, peaking to 98.

Whoa! In other words, LouVino’s ahm-bee-ahnce roars at the approximate level of a subway train, or a motorcycle revving up nearby.

Yes, it was that loud. It took a while, but as complaints grew I calibrated that iPhone app against a more serious scientific device, than began including a “Noise Level” report at the end of my reviews. A lot of you have thanked me for that.

And yet … where’s the fun in an eatery so silent that it feels like a tomb? Who wants a venue so quiet that everyone nearby can listen in on your private conversation with your date?

You would think that there’d be a ton of popular restaurants in the Goldilocks zone, a desirable setting where the scene is never too loud or too silent but always, like Baby Bear’s porridge, just right.

In the meantime, we try to cope. Ask for a table in a quiet corner or, weather permitting, dine outdoors. Look for a smaller room in a larger venue, or duck into a booth with a high back. Hit a busy place for lunch, not dinner, or even at an off hour. Text your friends, learn to lip read, focus on your food, and bring your sense of humor.

Just for fun, I went back through my records since I started recording noise levels to assemble this list of the loudest dining experiences I’ve noted since 2018, matched against standard sound comparisons for peak dB levels in the upper 70s, 80s and 90s.

90dB and over – Likely hearing damage at 8-hour exposure.

Power mower (96dB)

House of Marigold, summer 2023
Noise levels averaged a 79.7 roar, with an ear-shattering 92.2dB peak.

Kiwami Ramen, spring 2024
Average levels at 78.4dB and peaks to a near-painful 92.2dB.

Motorcycle at 25 ft (90dB)

Steak & Bourbon, summer 2019
Average sound level 82dB, the sound of loud singing, with peaks to 90dB, the sound of a motorcycle.

District 6 Gastropub, autumn 2019
Average 72dB, the level of normal conversation, with occasional brief, shrieking peaks to 90dB.

80dB and over – Possible hearing damage at 8-hour exposure.

Garbage disposal, dishwasher, average factory, freight train 50 feet away or a car wash at 20 feet (89dB)

Grassa Gramma, spring 2019
Average sound level over 79dB, on the border between a moving car and loud singing, with peaks barely under 90dB.

Propeller plane flyover at 1000 feet or a food blender up close (88dB)

Anoosh Bistro, spring 2023
Averate 76.2dB, peaks to 88.5dB.

The Pine Room, autumn 2018
Average 84dB, maximum 88.3dB

Barn 8, summer 2022
Average 78.7dB with peaks to 87.4dB

Mesh, winter 2019
Average 80dB with peaks to 87dB

Chik’n & Mi, spring 2022
Peaks to 85dB

Diesel truck going 40 mph at 50 feet (84dB)

La Cocina de Mamá, spring 2022
Average 77dBwith peaks to 84dB

District 6 Gastropub, winter 2023
Average 75.1dB with peaks to 83.6dB.

Diesel train at 45 mph at 100 feet (83dB)

Agave & Rye, winter 2021
Average 77dB with peaks to 83dB.

Noosh Nosh, summer 2021
Average 74dB, peaks at 82dB

Irish Rover, spring 2023
Average 72dB with peaks to 82dB.

Joe’s Older than Dirt, winter 2019
Average 75dB, peaks 81dB

North of Bourbon, winter 2022
Average 74.4dB, peaks 80.6dB.

Nami Korean Steakhouse, autumn 2023
Average 79dB. peaks 80.3

70dB – Upper 70s are annoyingly loud to some people.

Le Moo, autumn 2018
Average a moderate 65-71dB, but peaks to 79dB.

Uptown Cafe, summer 2023
Average 69dB with peaks to 78.8dB.