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Sampling decibel levels at local restaurants

Kayana Szymczak for the Globe/file

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.


Brookline, MA -- 08/15/13 -- right to left: Amelia Sutton, Haley Rose, Catherine Lapsley, and Dan Amelang enjoy cocktails at the bar at Ribelle restaurant in Brookline, Massachusetts on August 15, 2013. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/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.

Cambridge, MA 092013 Steven Wallace (cq) left, of Boston, Colleen Higgins C(q), also from Boston and Steven's brother Derek Wallace (cq) of Dover, NH visit the Kirkland Tap & Trotter restaurant in Cambridge on September 20, 2013. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)/ GEssdras 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.

Boston, MA - 03/04/14 - Row 34 restaurant's beer director Megan Parker-Gray. Lane Turner/Globe Staff Section: ARTS Reporter: Gary Dzen Slug: 19sipsLane 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.


Cambridge, MA - 04/01/14 - Chefs deal with complicated allergy requests from customers. Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson keeps an "allergy matrix" on a whiteboard in his kitchen (the "matrix" is a list of foods in entrée items that trigger certain allergies). Lane Turner/Globe Staff Section: FOOD Reporter: Kara Baskin Slug: 09chefsLane Turner/Globe Staff/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.

Somerville, MA -- 05/22/13 -- left to right: Amanda Winchester, Nathan Uhlenbrock(cq), Sarah Kramer, Mareike(cq) Stanitzke(cq), and Rachel Schaff(cq) share a toast at Bronwyn restaurant on May 22, 2013 in Somerville, Massachusetts. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe/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.

Server Meghan Drury leans in to hear as, Kevin Grant of Lynnfield places his order at The Painted Burro in Somerville. The restaurant, opened in 2012, has installed soundboards and painted with Mexican themes to look like decor in an effort to reduce the noise level in the popular Davis Square restaurant. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Lifestyle, hernandezp) 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.

Newton, Ma., 09/27/13, Chef Michael Leviton of Lumiere is participating in this fall's "Eating with the Ecosystem", serving a dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 8th. He makes Crispy Alewives w/ Pickled Ramp Remoulade. This is part of a Lumiere Ecosystem dinner sponsored by Eating with the Ecosystem, an educational organization. Section: G Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staffSuzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/file/Globe staff


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. PEGGY HERNANDEZ