TODAY   |  December 06, 2012

Loud restaurants working to turn down the noise

The increasing noise in restaurants, sometimes as loud as a jackhammer or lawnmower, has critics and patrons frustrated – prompting restaurant owners to take action to make conversation while dining more comfortable. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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>>> like going out to dinner and who doesn't? you may have noticed something about the restaurant scene these days, it's louder, much louder. and in some places, as loud as a jackhammer or subway train . what is this noise all about? here's nbc's mike taibbi .

>> it's not your daddy's restaurant business anymore. more hard surfaces, open kitchens, fewer table cloths or curtains, less space between tables, and less comfortable chairs. and all that noise. this is a frame.

>> i want yo uh to feel like you almost stumbled into a hub and we wrapped ourselves around you.

>> reporter: but it makes conversation a challenge.

>> for me, not quite normal. i feel like i'm raising my voice.

>> you're not at all. you're not at all.

>> reporter: yeah, i was. it's loud here. this sound level meter says it's about 90 decibels. think a lawn mower or a 747 taking off. diners are complaining about noise more than anything else except bad service. reviewers and restaurant rating sites are now listing noise levels, a mini crisis to bon appetit . and restaurant architects acknowledging the move to industrial seat design and rooms that feel alive are working not to eliminate noise but to manipulate it.

>> to appear more of a collage that's pleasing.

>> i wanted that holy grail of buzzsy, but conversational.

>> reporter: here there are sound-absorbing panels taking the bounce off hard surfaces. and this, yes, there's an app for it. a computerized way to control, not just the sound level in different sections of the restaurant , but to customize the way those sounds are heard. it's a barely noticeable matrix of microphones and speakers that collects the noises of a crowded restaurant and then washes it all back out in kind of a soothing white noise bath. still, there are restaurant owners and restaurant goers who like it loud. but for those who complain they just can't talk --

>> usually if they're saying that, we'll turn up the music so we can't hear what they're saying.

>> reporter: if i heard him right, i think he was joking. for "today," nbc news, los angeles .

>> an idea whose time has come. i can't hear a thing in restaurants.

>> you do -- i have a difficult time having a conversation because i can't pick out your voice in the midst of all that noise.

>> i'm the say way. and i lean in and i'm like, what? what did you say?

>> exactly.

>> our kids are --

>> they like that?

>> yeah. enough noise at home.

>> i've had whole conversations not knowing what i've said. i just started nodding --

>> same here.

>> but enough about the show.

>> and scene.

>>> coming up next, john travolta and olivia newton john 's christmas video that has a lot