Love to dine out or attend parties and special events with loved ones? Catching up with good food, good wine and friends are some of the best parts of socializing. If you prefer a lively restaurant scene or are attending a private event like a wedding, work function or banquet, you may have difficulty keeping up with the conversation. Hearing in noise naturally becomes more difficult as we age, and even more so if you have a hearing loss for high-frequency sounds, which sometimes makes it harder to understand what you hear. If you wear hearing aids, many of today’s models help by automatically adjusting to filter out the unwanted noise allowing you to hear what’s important.
Whether you wear hearing aids or not, keep up with the conversation around the table with these easy tips for dining out and attending special events:
Limit the size of your party. Keep your group size small to keep conversations manageable. While fun, dining out in a large group may make it more difficult to keep up with conversation. With smaller groups, you can maintain eye contact and focus on the person speaking, making it easier to engage in conversation and enjoy your time.
Plan in advance for the night. If you’re attending a business function or work party, plan what you want to achieve–whom you want to meet, what you want to discuss and anything else of importance. This way you can control the conversation and are less likely to find yourself making small talk just to fill the time.
Choose a restaurant with some or all of these elements to help soften the background noise—carpeting on the floor, acoustic tiles on the ceiling, curtains on the window, tablecloths and booths. You may also want to do a search online with the name of the restaurant and “noise” and see what comes up. Zagat publishes a list of “Quiet Conversation” restaurants in many cities.
Make a reservation and request a quiet spot. A table a little further from the action will allow for more intimate conversation. This way you’ll be able to hear the server and your fellow dinner companions. Ask in advance if the restaurant plays loud music, and if so, consider another place. At the very least you’ll be prepared ahead of time, so you’ll know what to expect. If you’re attending a private event, ask the host to seat you in the quietest place possible—away from the band or the speakers, or indicate where you’d like to be seated. Being away from the center of the activity will allow you to focus more on the conversations at your table and less on what else is happening in the room.
Attending a sit down dinner? Take advantage of the cocktail hour, or quiet time before dinner. As the night progresses, it gets louder–known as the cocktail party effect. Use this early time to mingle and chat with people you know, or meet new ones. If you have a hearing loss, don’t be afraid to ask people to enunciate clearly and to face you while catching up.
Choose the right seat. If you’re dining out, sit in a corner, or with your back to the wall—this may help lessen the effect of the noise. If you have a directional microphone in your hearing aid, sit with your back to the noise. Try both seats and see which is most comfortable for you. One thing is certain—sit far away from the entrance, the kitchen, the bussing station and the bar. Make sure the space is well lit so you can see the speaker. Avoid seats facing windows, especially in the sunlight because you won’t be able to see the speaker. If you have the choice, round tables are best so you can see all the speakers’ faces.
Tell your server you have a hearing loss. If you have hearing loss or wear hearing aids, ask your server to maintain eye contact and enunciate clearly. Speak up if you’re struggling, it’s okay to ask for help. No need to struggle in silence.
Ask the person you want to chat with to go someplace quiet. It’s okay to move a bit away from the crowd in a larger event setting. Explain to them you have a hearing loss, or just need a break from the noise, but would love to chat for a few minutes in the lounge, or someplace quieter. This is a great way to connect, get your message across or just to have a few minutes of quiet time.
Ask for a copy of the specials. It may be difficult to catch all of the daily specials your server shares with your table if they aren’t written down—don’t be afraid to ask them if they can write them for you. If that’s not an option, ask a member of your party to repeat the specials for you. When all else fails, stick to the regular menu.
Enjoy a drink, but don’t overdo it. If you drink too much, it’ll make it much harder to converse with others. When you drink alcohol, it travels to the brain and blocks the parts that process sound. It becomes harder to hear, especially if those around you have had a little too much to drink and are slurring their speech. Drinking moderately will help you stay alert, and focus on the conversation.
Don’t go during peak dinner hours. Book a table a little earlier or a little later to avoid the rush. The restaurant will be quieter and your server will be able to give you more individualized attention.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you find that you just can’t keep up, then excuse yourself. It’s okay to leave a little early. If you’re done conversing, but not done socializing, you can always hit the dance floor instead–take the pressure off the conversation and keep the celebration going. Do what feels good, your ears will thank you for it.
Tips for communicating with someone with a hearing loss
It’s important to understand how to communicate with someone with a hearing loss, or how to prepare for social situations when you have hearing loss yourself. Use these tips to help you stay connected.
Set your stage
Get the person’s attention first, either by a pat on the shoulder, or by calling their name so they know you’re speaking to them.
- Face the person directly.
- Avoid speaking from another room.
- Stand in a well-lit place so the person can read your lips, facial expressions and body language.
- Avoid noisy backgrounds, turn down the TV or go someplace quiet.
- At restaurants, try to get the quietest seats.
Get your point across
- Don’t shout.
- Speak clearly, at a moderate pace and without over-emphasizing words.
- Avoid chewing gum, food or smoking while speaking so the person can read your lips.
- Keep hands away from the mouth and face while speaking.
- Re-phrase, instead of repeating, if you’re not understood.
- Use facial expressions and gestures.
Show patience and respect
- Be patient if the response seems slow.
- Avoid making jokes about the person’s hearing loss.
- Show respect to help build confidence and enjoy the conversation.
- Maintain a sense of humor, stay positive and relaxed.
Tips for communicating if you have a hearing loss
With the following tips, it’ll make it easier to enjoy social events and keep up with the conversation:
Set your stage
- Wear your hearing aids—they’ll help you keep up with the conversation.
- Tell others how best to talk to you, ask them to keep their hands away from the mouth, stand in a well-lit area and speak clearly.
- Use visual clues to help you understand, including body language, facial expressions and movement of the eyebrows and eyes.
- Pick your best spot—light, quiet, close to the speaker.
- Anticipate difficult situations, plan how to deal with them.
Do your part
- Pay attention.
- Concentrate on the speaker.
- Ask for written cues if needed.
- Don’t interrupt. Let the conversation flow so you can fill in the blanks and gain more meaning.
- Maintain a sense of humor, stay positive and relaxed.
- Drink moderately—too much alcohol can affect the part of your brain that processes sound, making it more difficult to understand speech.
- Let the speaker know how well he or she is conveying the information.
- Don’t bluff. Admit it when you don’t understand.
- Ask specific questions instead of saying “What?” This will make it easier for the speaker to fill in the blanks.
- If you’re too tired to concentrate, ask to talk later.
- Thank the speaker for trying.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself.
If you or someone you know has a hearing loss, encourage each other to take the first step to better hearing. To schedule a free hearing screening at a clinic near you, click here or call (800) 550-5399.