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More Restaurants Seeking To Appeal To Your Eardrums As Much As Your Taste Buds

CHICAGO (CBS) -- When you're choosing a restaurant, the food is probably your primary driver, but CBS 2 Morning Insider Vince Gerasole shows us why restaurant owners are now focusing on our ears as well as our taste buds -- moves that just might save your hearing.

Just as important as the lavender cappuccino at Limitless Coffee is the sound surrounding guests.

"Some actually pay attention to it, and some just don't, and we definitely did," director of retail operations Phil Hirst said.

Customers might work online at Limitless Coffee for hours. The challenge was creating an energetic but not deafening space.

"Honestly, it's hard to find a happy medium" Hirst said.

Architect Caitlin Hubbs, at Oak Park-based Aria Group, helped design the coffee bar, choosing materials that might surprise you, like a decorative felt band above the bar, which dampens noise; sound-absorbing lamps, whose fabric shades drink in conversations below; and the decorative hanging panels above.

"By hanging it vertically in the space, the sound will kind of go up, and bounce off, and get trapped up there, and then absorbed," Hubbs said.

The focus on sound comes at a time when open kitchens and industrial hard-surface designs entice diners' eyes, but might strain their ears. A number of apps like SoundPrint allow diners to measure a restaurant's noise level and share it online.

Places marked in red on SoundPrint have reported extended sound levels beyond 85 decibels, where long exposure might cause hearing loss.

That's what CBS 2 measured at a downtown bar just after 5 p.m., and also at a popular Loop dining hall at the height of lunch hour.

"We didn't want industrial sound in here, that's for sure, but we definitely liked that look," said Ty Fujimura, owner of Entente in River North.

Entente features an active open kitchen, and glistening but sound-bouncing concrete floors.

Fujimura explained some of the measures they took to reduce noise.

"These chairs will have additional felting on the bottom of them to help with sound being bounced around on the floor," he said.

The black ceilings are covered in a material whose pinholes absorb sound.

Entente also features a thick wall of plants and easy greenery, which proves easy on the eye and also on the ear.

"Really any living element, any living plant, that type of stuff will help just absorb," Fujimura said. "We want sound to kind of come in here and not leave again."

Such steps might add tens of thousands of dollars to a design, but they serve a purpose; impacting the health of customers and workers alike.

"I don't really think it's an expense. I think of it more as an investment," Hirst said.

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