Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Noise Pollution Hits New York

“My job is to put my hand deeply in your pocket as I can for as long as you like. It’s a manipulative business.” This quote is from Jon Taffer, a restaurant and night life consultant and host of the reality show “Bar Rescue” speaking about designing music programs for restaurants, bars and hotels in a recent New York Times article “Working or Playing Indoors, NewYorkers Face an Unabated Roar" Thanks to The New York Times we know that the noise levels in one-third of its researched 37 restaurants, bars, stores, and gyms in New York City are bordering on dangerous. Examples are given from Beaumarchais, a brasserie which averaged 99 decibels, a spin class at Crunch gym averaging 100 decibels, and an Abercrombie & Fitch store with music hitting 88 decibels. Just to compare: normal conversation is between 60-65 decibel and The Occupational Safety andHealth Administration requires that workers exposed to an average of 90 decibels for eight hours wear hearing protection. “ …repeated exposure to loud noise often damages.........

hearing and has been linked to higher levels of stress, hypertension and heart disease…..” Employees at these noisy places are often the most affected. “…..Several Abercrombie employees admitted to frequent headaches. One said she hid out in the stock room to get away from the noise..”  At restaurant Lavo, a waitress said “I’ve been getting migraines,” She said that she woke up with her ears buzzing, and that her doctor had recently prescribed seizure medicine: “It decreases the amount of headaches you get.”

Besides being dangerous to workers, what about the customers, what do they think? Although young patrons at bars and restaurants seem to like it, there are quite a few customers who are complaining. According to the restaurant guide Zagat one of the biggest complaints is noise, and I too would be one of those complaining customers. So, why are these places letting their noise levels increase to these levels?

First, The New York Times quotes research showing people drink more when music is loud.  Then, Mr. McKinley, a marketing executive at the company that creates playlists for Abercrombie and other similar stores says:

“the goal is to create an “aspirational” environment. Throbbing music and dim lights make youngsters feel as if they are in a club and entice them to stay longer. “There’s a lot of studies out there showing that the more time spent in the store correlates to more items purchased,” Mr. McKinley said. An Abercrombie spokesman said in a statement that the company’s “unique A&F in-store experience is something that our customer wants.”

Another music designer working with the Hard Rock Café said that they perfected their music practice “by playing loud, fast music…….causing patrons to talk less, consume more and leaving quickly.”  

The way I see it increasingly restaurants, stores, gyms and other places crank up the music. Whether this is due to thoughtlessness or part of an ingenious marketing plan, a trend that I’m sure many people with me find annoying. A trend, by the way, that is not limited to New York or the U.S.: also in Europe I’ve noticed a similar increase in noise. This places employees often in a difficult situation, comparable with being exposed to smoking: till a smoking ban was enacted employees had little choice. In that sense, for New York, I call upon Mayor Bloomberg to set stricter standards for noise regulation (if he succeeded to do so with smoking and is now targeting super-sized sodas, then I think noise is at least worthy of similar effort). I also call upon Zagat to add a noise indicator as part of their restaurant evaluation. In the meanwhile, I’ll vote with my feet and make sure that I don’t spend any money in noisy places that manipulate or disregard their customers: I prefer a good conversation, enjoying my dinner or drink casually and stay as long or leave when I choose to do so.

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