Playing Music in a Bar or Restaurant

Playing Music in a Bar or Restaurant  

Music is an essential part of the cultural life of New York City and critical to many nightlife and other business operations. Yet in some cases, amplified sound can create disturbances that may impact quality of life. That is why the NYC Noise Code attempts to balance the needs of residents, with those of a vibrant and flourishing hospitality industry.

If you play music in your restaurant, nightclub, café, bar, or establishment, you need to comply with the City's noise code, and take common sense steps to avoid unreasonable sound disturbances in order to better coexist with neighbors. In the sections below are some links to learn more about what your business needs to know to avoid these violations.  

Commercial establishments that play music must limit the level of noise that escapes into the streets or is heard in nearby residences, at levels that may not exceed:

 

  • 42 decibels as measured from inside nearby residences, AND
  • 7 decibels over the ambient sound level at night, as measured on a street or public right-of-way 15 feet or more from the source, between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am

 

Did you know?

Bars and restaurants may need various music licenses from performing rights organizations (PROs), such as Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC), and Global Music Rights (GMR), in order to play music. Operators should be sure to make sure that they have permission to play music in order avoid costly claims.

 


Sound Mitigation

Learn what your business can do to avoid sound complaints and violations – “louder” isn’t always better. Using common sense and as well as expert resources and training, nightlife businesses can take several steps to better coexist with residential neighbors and avoid common problems that result in sound-related disputes.

 

Helpful links for business owners & residents:

 

 

 


Reducing Sound in the Workplace

You can protect the hearing of staff and customers in your restaurant or bar with these tips:

  • Lower the volume of music in kitchen and dining areas.
  • Install design features that lessen noise, such as acoustic panels or soundproof kitchen doors. When possible, purchase quieter equipment.
  • Move noisy equipment and wait stations away from dining areas. 
  • Make sure heating and air conditioning equipment work well. 
  • Offer hearing protection for customers in noisy areas.
  • Review Food Matters for more restaurant safety information.


Addressing Sound Complaints

Sound disturbances and conflicts can be difficult to deal with for all parties involved. The NYC Noise Code has strict standards for allowable sound, though every person will have a different tolerance for what level of audible sound is detectable. Landlords may have stricter requirements for noise than the NYC Noise Code. 

For businesses that have received complaints about sound, it is generally advisable to try to work to resolve those disputes directly with the neighbor first, if possible. Sometimes small changes to speaker placement, sound insulation materials, or the use of digital decibel monitors can lead to positive resolutions. In most cases, open, direct, and frequent communication will be the key to managing sound-related conflicts.

For chronic, ongoing issues that have not been resolved, nightlife businesses or neighbors experiencing sound issues may want to consider free mediation services. Mediation is voluntary, confidential, and informal. A neutral third party can intervene to understand both sides of a disagreement and help develop solutions that meet all parties’ needs.


The following community mediation centers provide free mediation services to help resolve sound-related disputes:

 

 

* The City of New York does not endorse the services provided by these mediation centers and nightlife businesses and neighbors should consider other service providers as well. If you feel like you have tried all of the above recommendations and are still experiencing chronic, on-going issues regarding sound, you may also contact the Office of Nightlife