Measuring Noise Instead Of Flavor

Actress Jessica Simpson arrives at the premiere of Lionsgate's "Employee of the Month" at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on Sept. 19, 2006. Simpson plays Amy, a cashier at a warehouse superstore. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES/Peter Kramer)
If you're the average American, you eat out almost four times a week. But did you know eating in a restaurant can be bad for your health?

CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports not about the calories -- but about the decibels.

Hearing expert Robert Sweetow has discovered that some restaurants are so noisy they could be considered a health hazard. The noise levels were higher than the permissible noise levels set forth by the government in their standards for industry.

"In some of the restaurants we went into, we were up at above 90 decibels," says Sweetow. The danger level for hearing is considered to begin at 80 decibels.

Sweetow suggests providing restaurant workers some time off. "Give the workers maybe a five-minute break during the peak hours to let their ears get a rest," Sweetow says.

And then there are the patrons, struggling to hear and be heard.

Working anonymously, food critics for the San Francisco Chronicle now carry noise meters and rate restaurants with symbols ranging from one to four bells, or a bomb for the loudest places.

In one case, Robin Davis, a Chronicle restaurant critic, says, "This is registering at five bells, which we consider a bomb," she says.

In many restaurants the noise is considered part of the atmosphere, part of the buzz that helps attract a young crowd. Don't call it noise, say the people who run one restaurant; call it energy.

And what if the waiters started to wear earplugs?

"Well that would be a nightmare, wouldn't it?" offers Jody Denton, an executive chef. "'Excuse me, sir, could you speak up?'" he suggests.

Restaurant patrons often add to the din.

To help keep the noise down, restaurant owner Ed Moose has banned cell phones in his restaurant.

"People are beaten up by all this noise; it's hard on us," Moose says. "We're engaged in a great controversy here," he adds.

When a cell phone starts ringing, Moose jokes, "Cell phone police!!"

Moose has stopped some noise. And others are urging restaurants across the country to consider people's ears as well as their taste buds.