Across New York City, in restaurants and bars, loud noise has become a way of life. The New York Times measured noise levels at 37 restaurants, bars, stores and gyms across the city and found levels that experts said bordered on dangerous at one-third of them.
At the Brooklyn Star in Williamsburg, the volume averaged 94 decibels over an hour and a half, and at Beaumarchais, a nightclub-like brasserie on West 13th Street, the music averaged 99 decibels over 20 minutes and reached 102 in its loudest 5 minutes.
According to New York Times writer Cara Buckley, research indicates people drink more when music is loud. One study found that people chewed faster when tempos were sped up. As a result, some bars and restaurants are finely tuning sound systems, according to audio engineers and restaurant consultants.
“Think about places where they’re trying to get you in and out as quickly as possible,” said John Mayberry, an acoustical engineer. “It’s real obvious what their intentions are.”
Wyatt Magnum, a music designer, ensured that the music tempo was about 125 beats per minute — about the same as the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” — at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, and commented that it’s the perfect tempo for turning tables.
“It gets louder and faster and causes people to eat and leave,” he said.
Buckley claims Magnum designs music programs for restaurants, bars and hotels, and programs them to increase in tempo and volume as the day goes on, and to peak at cocktail hour, when the profit margins are largest.
He counts luxury hotels and chain restaurants among his clients, and sells an Encyclopedia of Beats-Per-Minute to help proprietors perfect tempos.
“Are we manipulating you? Of course we are,” said Jon Taffer, a restaurant and night life consultant and the host of the reality show “Bar Rescue.”
“My job,” he said, “is to put my hand as deeply in your pocket as I can for as long as you like it. It’s a manipulative business.”
Magnum claims the Hard Rock Cafe had the practice down to a science, “ever since its founders realized that by playing loud, fast music, patrons talked less, consumed more and left quickly.”
In 1985, a study by Fairfield University in Connecticut reported that people ate faster when background music was sped up.
Nicolas Gueguen, a professor of behavioral sciences at the Université de Bretagne-Sud in France, reported in the October 2008 edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, that higher volumes led beer drinkers in a bar to drink more.
Buckley notes some customers like the loudness, and younger people can withstand loud music longer, while older ones may run from it, helping proprietors maintain a youthful clientele and a fresh image.
But as Buckley points out, “Repeated exposure to loud noise often damages hearing and has been linked to higher levels of stress, hypertension and heart disease.”