Avoid the peak hours. Go late - by then the crowds will have thinned out.
Visit the restaurants in your area to check for such things as acoustics, layout and background noise. Request copies of menus so you have information about the restaurant ahead of time. Keep a list of the quietest restaurants and the most responsive to your needs. Then, it’s available for you to use when you have to go somewhere on the spur of the moment. Make friends with the manager or staff. If you come back often they will anticipate your needs.
Choose a restaurant on a quiet street to cut down on the traffic noise from outside. If this is unavoidable, then request a table as far away from the street as possible.
Request a quiet spot away from the kitchen, stereo speakers, live music, and air conditioning units, for example, when you arrive or when you call to make reservations.
Choose restaurants with tablecloths, curtains, low ceilings, and carpeting as these cut down on reverberation, which makes it difficult to hear. (One drawback - quiet restaurants with sound-absorbing materials are often the expensive ones!)
Choose a booth if possible when in a small group.
Round tables are best for larger groups. They allow you to see everyone in the party for easier speech reading.
Pick the best seat for you to see and hear (explain why to your companions). Sit facing the person to whom you will be talking the most, unless you have hearing loss in one ear then maybe you want them on your “good” ear side. Choose a seat so that your back is facing the wall and not the noise. Do not face windows, as the glare will prevent you from speech reading.
In spite of all these strategies, it still may not be possible to hear everything above the noise. Try bringing along a personal FM system. Using it with the neck loop and the telecoil on your hearing aid will cut out quite a bit of background noise. Try positioning the microphone in the center of the table. It may be able to pick up the voices around the table. Chinese restaurants often have turntables (lazy susan) on the table. If so, position the microphone on there, and then you can spin the microphone around to the person who is speaking. It may be necessary to have people pass the microphone around.
Avoid restaurants with dim lighting as it makes speech reading more difficult. For those of us who are becoming nearsighted, subdued lighting makes reading the menu harder. Candlelight also affects our speech reading ability as the halo around the burning candle obscures the faces of people opposite. Remove tall vases of flowers if they are obscuring people’s faces.
Look for the board where specials are posted for the day and try to memorize them. It will be easier to understand the waiter when he reels them off the table. If specials are not posted and no printed menus are available, try not to be intimidated and pressured by a busy waiter. Ask him or her to repeat them slowly and clearly, or write them down. (How many of us have ended up with a salad dressing we don’t really want since that’s the only one we heard!)
Take time to read the menu, including all the small print “comes with” information. You can then point to the menu and ask. “Is that included?” thus only needing a yes or no reply. You will also be prepared to choose type of salad dressing, beverage, rolls or muffins, gravy on potatoes, etc., without relying on hearing the waiter. Remember, you will usually be asked for beverage selection before anything else you ordered.
Educate yourself about different cuisines so you know what is likely to be offered in a particular restaurant - French, Italian, Oriental, Middle Eastern, American. Each will have its own vocabulary and kinds of dishes you can anticipate, forestall questions and avoid misunder-standings.
There will still be times when you cannot understand, in spite of all these strategies. Then it’s time to get out the paper and pencil.
Say “thank you” to waiters and Maitre d’ for any special courtesies...you may then get more attention the next time.
P.S. These suggestions will only work if you are willing to tell people that you have a hearing loss.
Courtesy of Deborah Touchette, Au.D., Doctor of Audiology,