Why Some Places in New York Are Unnecessarily Loud

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The Standard Biergarten reached levels of 96 decibels. Photo: futureshape's flickr

For years, Mayor Bloomberg has striven to make New York as safe and healthy as possible. You can't smoke anywhere. You can't serve trans fats. And soon, you won't be able to buy huge, sugary drinks. But Bloomberg has yet to do anything about the not-silent killer: noise. A Times investigation "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." If you've ever had to scream "STELLAAAAA!!!" at a bartender like you were Stanley Kowalski, the fact that some establishments in New York are unnecessarily loud should not come as a surprise. But maybe you didn't realize why certain places play ear-piercing music: It sells more beer.

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 imbibe more. When the bar’s music was 72 decibels, people ordered an average of 2.6 drinks and took 14.5 minutes to finish one. But when the volume was turned up to 88 decibels, customers ordered an average of 3.4 drinks and took 11.5 minutes to finish each one.

It also sells more clothes: One retail expert believes that stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch, where volumes were measured at 87 decibels, blast music to keep The Olds away. Parents don't want to go in, so they hand over their credit cards to their kids instead.

Hey, manipulating customers for maximum profit is all part of capitalism. The problem is that working long hours in loud places can cause hearing loss. Which is why we expect Mayor Bloomberg to declare a strict "smooth jazz and inside voices" policy for all New York businesses any day now.