Food & dining

Sampling decibel levels at local restaurants

The Globe conducted an informal survey of eight area restaurants in February and March, timing visits for a busy Thursday or Friday night. We used a mini sound-level meter to capture an average reading from at least four readings taken between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.

The $30 meter is manufactured in China by CEM and has garnered good reviews for its size. It has a measuring range of 35-130 decibels and an A frequency weighting, the most commonly used for measuring the relative loudness perceived by the human ear. It has an accuracy of +/-3.5 decibels. No conversation took place at the Globe’s table during the readings.

The Mayo Clinic has compiled a list of decibel readings against a noise source. The list is adapted from federal and private studies. Among its findings:

60 decibels equal normal conversation, which is a safe range.

70 decibels equal a washing machine, a safe range.

80 decibels equal heavy traffic, a safe range.

85-90 decibels equal a power lawn mower, a risk range if exposure is eight hours daily.

95 decibels equal a motorcycle, a risk range if exposure is eight hours daily.

100 decibels equal a snowmobile, a risk range if exposure is two hours daily.

110 decibels equal a rock concert, a risk range if exposure is 30 minutes daily.

The following results are in order of noise decibels, as recorded on the CEM device, from loudest to softest.

Merrill & Co.

  • 1 Appleton St., South End, Boston, 617-728-0728

  • 86 decibels

  • The interior features retro ’50s metal tables and chairs with black cushions, a communal table near the semi-open kitchen, a bar with a TV screen, a closed ceiling, concrete floor, storefront windows. The noise level once reached 97 decibels. Music one night: David Bowie, Steppenwolf. “There are no acoustic panels to manage sound and there are no plans for any in the future,” writes general manager Joe Witherell in an e-mail.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe


  • 1665 Beacon St., Washington Square, Brookline, 617-232-2322

  • 81 decibels

  • Wood chairs and tables, communal table, wood floor, concrete-topped bar in the dining area (above), a storefront glass wall, closed ceiling, open kitchen. The background music was not distinct enough for the app SoundHound to yield a title. After the restaurant received complaints about noise, staff applied soundproofing insulation under the tables and chairs. Chef and owner Tim Maslow had professional soundproofing installed in October.

Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff

The Kirkland Tap & Trotter

  • 425 Washington St., Somerville, 857-259-6585

  • 80 decibels

  • Wood chairs and tables, communal table, wood floor, bar in dining area with some metal chairs (above), storefront glass wall, exposed ceiling, open kitchen. Music one night: Muse, the White Stripes. Chef and owner Tony Maws has ordered acoustic panels for the ceilings. His wife is selecting artwork for the walls to help reduce noise.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Row 34

  • 383 Congress St., Fort Point, Boston, 617-553-5900

  • 79 decibels

  • Mostly metal chairs and hard tables, concrete floor, a metal seafood display near the entrance, a bar with two TVs, exposed ceiling, storefront glass wall, some exposed brick walls (bottom left). The kitchen is closed. Music one night: Bill Withers, the Spinners. The sound reading is from the main dining room, not a second, smaller dining area. General manager Shore Gregory says acoustic panels were installed before opening behind the bar and in the wire cages adorning the seafood display.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Puritan & Company

  • 1166 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-615-6195

  • 78 decibels

  • Wood chairs and tables, wood floor, artificial-stone bar in dining room, exposed ceiling with a chandelier of mason jars, storefront glass wall, a painted brick wall. One wall has damask-covered banquettes. The kitchen is closed. Chef and owner Will Gilson (above) says acoustic panels were installed on the ceiling before opening. A heavy curtain hung at the door this winter has reduced sound. Window curtains are being considered. Music one night: the Talking Heads.

Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe


  • 255 Washington St., Somerville, 617-776-9900

  • 77 decibels

  • First room has a zinc-covered bar and a wood communal table (bottom left). The noise reading is from the second room, which features wood chairs and tables, wood floor, exposed ceiling, partial glass storefront. The kitchen is closed. The background music was not distinct enough for the app SoundHound to yield a title. Chef and co-owner Tim Weichmann says he installed acoustic soundboard one month after opening.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Painted Burro

  • 219 Elm St., Somerville, 617-776-0005

  • 74 decibels

  • The bar is in a separate room and features a jukebox. The main dining room has wood chairs and tables, wood floor, closed ceiling and kitchen, storefront glass windows (above). Last year, 33 acoustic panels were installed on the walls and ceiling. Soundproofing insulation was applied under the tables and chairs.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/file


  • 1290 Washington St., West Newton, 617-244-9199

  • 66 decibels

  • Wood chairs and tables, wood floors, damask-covered benches, banquettes, small bar in main dining room, kitchen and ceiling are closed. The reading was taken in the front dining room. Featured music one night: Cuban jazz. The storefront windows are covered in lightweight white curtains. Chef and owner Michael Leviton (above) says similar material billowing from the ceiling conceals acoustic panels.

Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.