Case Study: Quieting the Din – Creating Sensory-Friendly Restaurants for Seniors with Hearing Loss

The Challenge of Restaurant Noise

Imagine you’re catching up with a dear friend over dinner at a favorite restaurant. The food arrives, the conversation flows, and laughter fills the air. But as the night progresses, the background noise seems to rise. Dishes clatter, conversations overlap, and music thrums in the distance. Suddenly, the joy of the evening fades as you struggle to hear your friend across the table. This scenario is all too real for many seniors with hearing loss, who often find themselves avoiding restaurants altogether due to overwhelming “restaurant noise.” This not only affects their social lives but also presents a missed opportunity for restaurants to connect with a loyal customer base.

The clanging of dishes, the murmur of conversation, and the thump of music often combine to create a cacophony in restaurants. In particular for seniors with hearing loss, this “restaurant noise” can be a significant barrier to enjoying a meal out. Sensory overload from excessive noise can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and ultimately, a reluctance to dine out altogether. This not only negatively impacts the social lives of seniors but also represents a missed opportunity for restaurants to attract a loyal customer base.

Senior friends having fun at a restaurant.

Sensory Friendly Solutions Steps Up:

Understanding this challenge, the New Brunswick Deaf and Hard of Hearing Society (NBDHH) secured a grant to tackle the isolating challenge of restaurant noise and seniors. They knew they needed a partner with a unique skillset, and that’s where Sensory Friendly Solutions (SFS) came in. SFS goes beyond simply raising awareness of sensory needs. We combine research expertise with practical solutions to create inclusive environments for everyone. In this case, we leveraged our knowledge of accessibility and sensory-friendly design to develop a user-friendly guide that benefits both seniors and restaurants. This is just one example of how SFS partners with non-profits to turn challenges into opportunities, making a positive impact on communities and businesses alike. Our goal was to create a more welcoming dining experience for seniors with hearing loss, while also benefiting restaurants themselfves.

“Most of our clients do not advocate for themselves because it becomes exhausting. They simply opt not to go. They think, ‘I don’t need to fight that battle.’” – Heather Chandler, Executive Director, New Brunswick Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Understanding the Impact of Restaurant Noise:

Our research confirmed a strong correlation between restaurant noise and a decline in dining out among seniors:

  • A 2020 SFS survey found that over 60% of respondents consider noise a major factor when choosing a restaurant.
  • Survey quotes revealed the negative impact of noise, with words like “isolated,” “frustrated,” and “stressed” recurring frequently.
Infographic highlighting data on seniors and noise levels in restaurants survey results.

“If a restaurant is overly noisy, it creates anxiety, stress, and frustration. If I’m not able to enjoy a quiet meal and conversation, I might as well stay home.” – Survey respondent.

“I definitely eat out less often because of my hearing loss. It’s not fun when you can’t participate with your friends.” – Survey respondent.

“If there is loud music, kitchen noise or the ceiling is open… it makes it impossible to hear almost anything. I would choose not to eat there again.” – Survey respondent.

The Scope of the Problem:

The World Health Organization reports that 33% of people over 65 experience hearing loss. While hearing aids can be helpful, they amplify all sounds, including the background noise in restaurants, further exacerbating the issue.

The Missed Opportunity for Restaurants:

Many restaurants underestimate the impact of noise on their customer base. Seniors represent a significant portion of restaurant patrons, and their dining frequency can be substantial. Our survey data highlighted this:

  • 35% of respondents eat out once a week.
  • Over 40% dine out monthly.
  • More than 45% of respondents spend between $101-$400 per month at restaurants.

By creating a more welcoming environment for seniors with hearing loss, restaurants have the potential to attract new customers, increase revenue, and build customer loyalty.

Group of adults at dinner table drinking wine.

The Solution: A User-Friendly Guide

To address these challenges, SFS, NBDHH and seniors co-created a three-part user-friendly guide:

  • For Seniors: Tips on selecting quieter restaurants, managing noise during dining experiences, and advocating for themselves.
  • For Families and Caregivers: Guidance on supporting seniors with hearing loss when dining out.
  • For Restaurants: Practical solutions for noise reduction, such as using chair balls and socks to minimize scraping sounds. The guide also recommends further resources for additional noise reduction strategies.

A Win-Win for All:

By implementing these simple and cost-effective changes to reduce restaurant noise, restaurants can not only create a more welcoming environment for seniors with hearing loss but also foster a more enjoyable dining experience for all customers. This translates to increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and ultimately, a boost to the restaurant’s bottom line.

Conclusion:

This case study demonstrates the positive impact of addressing restaurant noise. By creating sensory-friendly dining experiences, SFS and NBDHH have empowered both restaurants and seniors with hearing loss. Restaurants can now attract a wider customer base, while seniors can enjoy the social and emotional benefits of dining out in a comfortable and inclusive environment.

Download a free copy: A Better Restaurant Experience for Seniors with Hearing Loss Guide

To help other non-profits and businesses, we’ve written a a blog post to share the world of grant opportunities and funding options available for non-profit organizations and businesses looking to improve accessibility: Learn How to Fund Your Sensory-Friendly Project

See How SFS Makes a Difference: Explore More Case Studies

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