Do Noisy Restaurants Affect The Taste of Food?

Scientific American magazine’s recent article concerning a study published in the Food Quality and Preference Journal is focused on surrounding noise and the perception of food flavors. The study utilized 48 college students who were fitted with headphones playing respectively a loud white noise, a soft white noise or nothing at all. All were then asked to close their eyes, eat the food given them (Pringles and cookies) and rate the flavor.

The results were odd indeed, as the students who heard the loud noises perceived the chips to be less salty and the cookies as less sweet, and yet they all received exactly the same food. A second study revealed that students found crunchy foods to be crunchier when listening to louder sounds.

The study known as: The Effect of Background Noise on Food Perception conducted by AT Woods and others, supports the finding of past studies which have indicated that “sound can interfere with how the brain processes smell.”  It would seem that taste is the very next threshold to consider. This may explain why airline food is so rarely popular.

The ever-increasing decibel levels caused by the clang of dishes, the clink of glasses, the roar of voices and loud, pulsating music have been a growing problem over the past decade. In one city, so many diners complained about how loud restaurants had become that one newspaper began incorporating noise ratings into their restaurant reviews.

It’s fair to say that some of the restaurant noise may be the result of popular design and some the result of a device created by restaurant owners wanting to create excitement or keep diners from lingering too long. Most experts, however, believe that restaurant noise is merely a reflection of the fact that the world has become a noisier place inhabited by too many people and not enough space.

Will “din” soon become integral to the meaning of the word dinner? Are sound-deprived restaurants or those whose owners give out headsets and/or earplugs along with menus next on the horizon?

Time alone will tell.

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