by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Many hard of hearing people (including myself) often have difficulty conversing in restaurants. This spoils the dining experience. However, if you think about your needs, and plan ahead, there are a number of things you can do to greatly improve your chances of hearing in such situations.
One of my favorite coping strategies is to dine during off hours—either before or after the crowds. This way the restaurant is relatively empty. As a result, the noise level is much lower, In addition, I can request a seat in a low-noise area rather than having to take the only table available.
The noisiest areas in restaurants are typically near the kitchen doors or wherever the busboys collect the dirty dishes, near the cashier, and any high traffic areas–such as near the main entrance or near the restrooms.
Another strategy I use, if I have a choice, is to request a booth rather than a table. This is because booths tend to be quieter and often have a wall on one side that blocks any sound from that direction. In addition, with a booth, the waiter/waitress can’t stand behind you and ask for your order. He/she has to stand at the end of the booth in your field of view so you can readily see to speechread.
Another effective strategy is to learn which restaurants have loud music playing and avoid them. Find those that have soft background music. If the music is too loud, request that the volume be turned down. Some will do this for you, but in my experience, many refuse. I just don’t go back to them again.
Another strategy is to go to well-lighted restaurants, or sit by a window (if it is still light outside). This makes it easier to speechread.
Some restaurants are pretty dark because they turn down the lights for the ambience it gives. This makes speechreading anyone difficult. In such cases, I choose a table that is as well-lighted as possible. Look for one with the light directly over the table.
Classy restaurants may use candles as their main source of light. However, a romantic candle-lit dinner quickly looses its charm if you can’t hear your partner. If you find yourself in this situation all is not lost. There are two things you can do to help improve the situation. First, if the candles are in the center of the table, and between you and your partner, move them to one side or the other. This will make speechreading much easier as the light is no longer in your eyes. If this does not provide enough light, ask the waiter for some more candles. Line them up on both sides of your table and you should have adequate light without destroying the intimate atmosphere.
Each of these coping strategies can improve your dining experience, and best of all, they are all free!