TODAY | December 08, 2012
>>> most of us enjoy dieng out. if you've been to a restaurant lately, though, you may have noticed it's a lot harder to hear people in there. so what's all the racket about?
>> reporter: it is not your daddy's restaurant business anymore. more hard surfaces, open kitchens, fewer table cloths, fewer curtains, less space between tables, and less comfortable chairs. and all that noise. this is a-frame in l.a., one of the city's loudest. the owner likes it that way.
>> i want you to feel like you almost stumbled into a hug 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.
>> reporter: yeah, i was. it's loud here. this sound level meter says it's about 90 decibels, give or take a little on either side. think. a bogey 737 taking off 100 yards away. given those comparative sound levels, 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 andrew nolton.
>> it's infuriating sitting across two feet from somebody and not being able to hear them.
>> reporter: experts like ralph acknowledge rooms that feel alive are working not to eliminate noise, but to manipulate it.
>> making the collection of sounds appear to be more of a collage that's pleasing.
>> reporter: that's what john did with his new restaurant in berkley's arts district .
>> i wanted that somewhat holy grail of buzzy but conversational.
>> reporter: here they have duct liner and unseen fabrics 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. and 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 them.
>> reporter: if i heard him right, i think he was joking.