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Noisy Restaurants


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#1 robert brown

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Posted 13 December 2003 - 10:51 PM

The one nice thing about noisy restaurants is that you can burp without offending your tablemates. Other than that, I find them counterproductive to meaningful dining.

Here's this week's study in contrasts. Tuesday night I went to Mix, which is on purpose designed to heighten the din and ruin your dinner. The floors are bare; the walls are brick; and the ceilings are high. I wanted to enjoy the food for a variety of reasons, but found myself struggling to do so. To put it simply, the noise detracted from the culinary enjoyment I believe I would have had otherwise. I couldn't think straight, let alone concentrate. I could barely make out what my friend sitting across from me was saying, due, admittedly, in part from getting my hearing messed up by spending several years listening to the likes of Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Jackie McLean and other jazz musicians through earphones on a treadmill.

Tonight, though, was different. I must have been the last serious restaurant goer in New York to have, at last, dined at the Savoy. My wife and I walked in cold in both senses of the word and got a ground floor table. While we sat in front of a pair of wall speakers, the music from it (until shortly after 8:00) was tasteful and played all evening at just the right volume so that you could both listen and talk. It gave us a genuine opportunity to talk about the food, which was some of the most well-conceived and sober I have had in New York in a long time. Where have I been all these years? Every dish was delicious. I am glad, in a way, that the restaurant has found a nice level and that it seems reasonable as far as getting a table. Savoy is a civilized place, fairly-priced and a pleasure to go to. I believe the lack of extraneous and the artificially-created noise-enhancing environment had something to do with it.

#2 Pan

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Posted 13 December 2003 - 10:56 PM

Were there many loud restaurants before the British Invasion in the 60s? I wouldn't know, of course, but I have a feeling that a liking for very loud music is something that came in with the rockers and continued from there. Not to say pre-rock music couldn't be loud, but not like The Who.

#3 fifi

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Posted 13 December 2003 - 11:19 PM

You have hit on one of my very favorite rants. There has been something going on in Houston with noise levels the past few years. There seems to be a theory that a high noise level makes for "excitement", "buzz", high energy" or some crap like that. The noise level is created with all hard surfaces, a really crowded room, loud music or some mix of the three. It drives me nuts. I can't enjoy the food. I can't talk to my dinner companions. I leave with ringing ears, a hoarse voice and, quite likely indigestion and no recollection of what I just ate. I have a list of restaurants that I absolutely WILL NOT go to (unless trapped with a group) because of noise. Pappasito's (I don't even make an exception because they have really good fajitas), Joe's Crab Shack (the food isn't that good anyway so no loss there), and Ruggles (great food, really uncomfortable room) come to mind. There are others.

Enough people here bitch about this trend toward higher noise levels that Alison Cook includes noise level in her restaurant reviews for the Houston Chronicle. What are these people thinking?

edit to add: In none of these cases is "meaningful dining" necessarily the goal or the issue. I am talking about genuinely uncomfortable dining rooms that probably would not pass an OSHA decibel allowable.
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#4 Pan

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Posted 13 December 2003 - 11:45 PM

fifi, do you think there's something to the idea that those noisy rooms are designed for people who grew up going to noisy clubs and noisy concerts?

#5 fifi

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Posted 14 December 2003 - 12:00 AM

There is probably something to that, Pan. But I find that even my kids (early 30s) are getting pretty tired of having to shout. The same is true of the 20-somethings that I work with. They are starting to find the trend annoying-to-impossible to deal with. When we start planning a workgroup dinner, noise level is one of the first things to come up. I was beginning to think that I was entering into "old fogey" mode but that just isn't true.
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#6 jat

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Posted 14 December 2003 - 01:39 AM

When I'm traveling I look at the restaurants on the web. I look at the
lighting and the comfort of the seats. Then I look at the menu to see if there's
something we would order. You can get a very good feel by talking with the
receptionist.
Here in Ssanta Barbara, I only eat at a few places and I've tried them all.
Our favorite sushi, Azuma, was recently purchased and instead of Oriental music
it's loud Rap music. WHen we drive by there is NOONE in the restaurant.
And restaurants wonder why they aren't busy. It's not the economy.

#7 Pan

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Posted 14 December 2003 - 03:09 AM

Based on what you're telling us, it sounds like the new owners are being a little airheaded. I'll bet it never occurred to them to wonder whether their music was driving people away or to ask what music used to be on the sound system before they bought the place. If they were told and ignored it - or they knew and didn't think of changing the music back - then they're true idiots or truly pigheaded or both and deserve to go out of business.

#8 fresco

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Posted 14 December 2003 - 07:30 AM

Noisy restaurants are perfect for people who have nothing to say to each other. Or just nothing to say.
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#9 rjwong

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 10:24 PM

Bump.

As I was doing the LA Times Food Section Digest (2 November 2005), I came across the section titled, "Ask the Critic." In this particular edition, Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila answers the question why restaurants are so noisy. Here's her opening answer:

Part of the reason is design trends — concrete or hardwood floors instead of carpets, no curtain treatments at the windows, very few absorbent soft surfaces. Bars tend to bleed into the dining room. There's nothing to soak up the sound.



She later gives some tips to help diners avoid the noise. Some of those tips I've used already: dine early in the evening, eat during a weekday instead of the weekend, have lunch instead of dinner ...

In Los Angeles, I would say most of the restaurants are more casual and tend to be more of the "see and be seen" (SABS) type of places. Mind you, there are a few good restaurants in LA that are a little more formal, and definitely quieter. I'm not giving away my secrets ... :hmmm:
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#10 racheld

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 10:57 PM

Friends invited us to their favorite Greek restaurant, which has sublime food, lovely salads and wonderful olives and the best breads and cheeses; their galactoboureka would make angels weep (and any diner who waits too late to order the last slice).

But the MUSIC!!! The entertainment is just too loud for conversation. It's quite a large set of rooms, and the soft background music is comfortably-tuned for the best atmosphere. Except that every twenty minutes or so, some sadist cranked up the sound system, playing the SAME blasting music for the bellydancer's entrance. Crescendo of pipes and cymbals, dancing and flirting, all the way around the immense space, with several stops and starts of the track, deafening diners and waiters alike. They approached, gestured with water pitcher, wine carafe, coffeepot---we nodded or smiled and shook our heads. An understanding grimace or shy shrug conveyed the staff's dislike of the din as well. That was all the communication available until the scarf-laden young woman shook her way around the circuit and back into the nether regions to await another blast of introductory music.

We've decided to give it one more chance. We hesitated to say anything, but that constant surge of sound, coupled with the too-close, eye-contact, look-at-me performance, seeming to require audience participation or approval or applause (and perhaps a tip with each circuit?) was discomfiting and caused us both to shrink from the unwanted attention and advances.

We love dinner theater, and there's an opera restaurant with delightful entertainment, the talented waitstaff bursting into duets and arias right in the aisles, and even a mystery one we've been to a few times, but the loud music and the forced closequarter attentions whilst the earnest little dancer shares her art with the several tables around us, then having to shout at our own dining companions past the canned music---it's just not fun. :sad:
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#11 TAPrice

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 11:18 PM

As I was doing the LA Times Food Section Digest (2 November 2005), I came across the section titled, "Ask the Critic." In this particular edition, Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila answers the question why restaurants are so noisy. Here's her opening answer:

Part of the reason is design trends — concrete or hardwood floors instead of carpets, no curtain treatments at the windows, very few absorbent soft surfaces. Bars tend to bleed into the dining room. There's nothing to soak up the sound.


View Post


I used to believe, just like Virbila, that the noise was a byproduct of a design fetish for hard surfaces. And then I ate at a hip steakhouse in Buenos Aires' Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. It had hard surfaces and wooden chairs, but the noise level was low. The secret? They had glued acoustic foam to the bottom of the tables and chairs.

It's such a simple solution that I have to believe that U.S. restaurants want the noise.

Edited by TAPrice, 03 November 2005 - 07:06 AM.

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#12 Carrot Top

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 05:31 AM

I have heard restaurant consultants advising "for" or "against" noise depending on the ultimate conceived "goal" of the restaurant.

Then the designers follow the direction given.

That is, when anyone *is* thinking about these things.

.................................................

Yeah, lots of quotation marks and *'s in this post.
Yes, it *is* meant to convey a tone.
Heh.

#13 BarbaraY

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 08:22 AM

Noise levels are beyond my comprehension. We have been known to ask, when we first arrive, if the music can be turned down. Have also been known to just leave if the answer is no.
We were in Palo Alto and wanted Sushi. On entering the place that had been recommended, we turned around and walked right back out. The noise was deafening. Not conducive to a good Sushi eperience.

#14 Megan Blocker

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 08:54 AM

I don't mind a restaurant with a bit of buzz (in fact, I prefer it), but I, too, have noticed that some restaurants are just plain conversation destroyingly loud these days. I agree with what's been said above about design trends - no tablecloths, tile or hardwood floors...these are things that lead to less sound absorption.

One thing I noticed about Hearth in NYC the first time I ate there was that one wall of the dining room (the one that isn't a street-facing, windowed wall) is covered in a sleek-looking, sound-absorbing feltish material. It seems to work - I've never eaten there when every table wasn't full, and it's never been too loud to be enjoyable.
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#15 birder53

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 09:51 AM

Could the noise level be deliberate? Just as the lighting and colors used in a fast food establishment are meant to get diners out quickly? Since most of the place noted here seem to have bars, are they hoping you drink yourself to a point where you no longer care about the noise level?

I remember a place in NYC - Caramba - that was very noisy. That was until I was well into my "Ridiculous" 20 oz frozen margarita :wacko: By the end of the meal we were all yelling to hear each other but having a great time.

Maybe I'm just a lot older now. :shock:
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#16 Ciao Ling

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 04:52 AM

A recent article in the WSJ describes a trend in restaurant design leading to high noise levels. Many of the comments are negative about noisy restaurants. I personally understand the need for an intimate fine dining experience in a quiet romantic setting, but in practice in my town, my one "regular" restaurant is the high ceiling, no carpet, open kitchen, large bar restaurant set in an old factory building. It's website audio in fact features the background din of people talking and plates and glasses clinking. It has great food and great drink. I like the vibe. I go to quieter restaurants for business or romantic occasions, but they are not my "regular" stops. Opinions?

#17 Meanderer

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 05:23 AM

Recently, a restaurant featuring Belgian food and a great Belgian beer selection opened a few miles away. My wife and I had dinner there one evening and enjoyed everything about the experience except for our inability to verbally communicate without shouting. Because of the noise, we haven't returned for dinner, though we have stopped in for lunch on occasion when it hasn't looked too busy. I guess that indicates that I prefer dining where I can enjoy the food and the conversation.

#18 Moopheus

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 05:41 AM

Not every place necessarily needs to be romantic and quiet, but deliberately designing a restaurant to amplify ambient noise is stupid. Like Meanderer, we've encountered restaurants where the background noise was just too loud to even have a conversation at the table. Maybe some people like that, but I won't go back to place like that.
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#19 gfweb

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 06:49 AM

I literally cannot tolerate a noisy restaurant. I'll not even take a seat if there is a din. I get agitated and uncomfortable.

I understand that a little noise helps the vibe of a place, and I'm not looking for a tomb, but the uber-noisy Border Cafe sort of place is not for me.

Why go out to eat with somebody if you cannot have a conversation? I don't get it.

Actually, I do get it. It is a design fad, doubtless hyped by witless consultants with "data" showing that it pays...or sells drinks...or whatever.

#20 Tri2Cook

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 07:20 AM

It is a design fad, doubtless hyped by witless consultants with "data" showing that it pays...or sells drinks...or whatever.


Well, if the places are always busy enough to be noisy then the evidence is kinda on their side. But I agree, those are not my favorite types of places. Neither are the places that are so stuffy that everybody turns and stares if your fork clinks against the plate a little too loudly. I like somewhere between those extremes.
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#21 gfweb

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 08:35 AM


It is a design fad, doubtless hyped by witless consultants with "data" showing that it pays...or sells drinks...or whatever.


Well, if the places are always busy enough to be noisy then the evidence is kinda on their side.


Actually, that is just the kind of "evidence" I'm talking about. It implies that success comes from the noise, not in spite of it.

#22 Chris Amirault

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 10:31 AM

Danny Meyer makes an interesting point about this in Setting the Table. (Excellent book, btw; anyone who reads Restaurant Life topics in eG Forums should grab it.) He talks about the cumulative effect that rooms with poor (or in this case, intentionally poor) sound design can have in a busy restaurant. IIRC, at Eleven Madison Park (or perhaps Tabla, but in that building), he had real restrictions on the interior design because the building is an architectural landmark, but he immediately identified the swift, exponential increase in noise that's caused, simply, by people having to talk with greater volume because of the ambient volume. Each table adjusts up a bit, raising the ambient volume, requiring another adjustment... and soon it's cacophony.

Unable to put in many standard noise dampeners, Meyer ended up stuffing balls of fabric under tables, putting up drapes, and doing whatever he could to deal with the problem. And -- as someone who has very bad hearing that is much worse in loud rooms -- I do consider it a flaw, not a feature.

Edited by Chris Amirault, 04 February 2010 - 11:05 AM.
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#23 gfweb

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 10:57 AM

Exactly right.

Many restaurants seem to encourage this by setting the "background" music at too high a level which forces conversation to be loud.

#24 ray goud

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 02:31 PM

My wife and I, and ALL of our friends and relatives, cannot stand loud restaurants. We consciously avoid returning to those we have found to be noisy. So though they may be making money selling more drinks, they are losing our business.
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#25 AdrianB

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 07:12 PM

Too loud is very annoying.

At a pub I don't mind a little noise / music but not at a restaurant!

There's a few places I frequent only in quiet periods (lunch mid-week et) just to avoid the deafening levels on a Fri/Sat night.

#26 Tri2Cook

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 09:38 PM

Exactly right.

Many restaurants seem to encourage this by setting the "background" music at too high a level which forces conversation to be loud.


I'm just saying it probably is a legitimately large market they are catering to and not just the product of marketing imagination. We're not necessarily the people those places are after in the first place. The people those places appeal to are there to see/hear and be seen/heard and wouldn't want it any other way.
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#27 Shalmanese

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 02:25 AM

For people who dislike noisy restaurants, I don't know how you survive at clubs. The quietest clubs are still louder than the noisiest restaurants. I'm not a fan of noise but it also doesn't bother me all that much.
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#28 ambra

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 03:53 AM

Shalmanese...It's very simple! We don't go to clubs!! heehee.

I haven't been to a club since I was stuck working in one 10 years ago. And I don't miss the noise- or anything really for that matter.

I think intentional noise is ridiculous. I don't expect a church or a pulic library either. I think there must be a happy medium! I guess I'm just not that guy's target demographic!

#29 Chris Amirault

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 04:53 AM

I wonder if the anti-noise demographic largely represented here consists of, shall we say, seasoned diners.

Full disclosure: I was born in 1963.
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#30 Ciao Ling

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 08:47 AM

I generally agree with not having a restaurant designed for noise, but as the WSJ article points out, sometimes "too noisy" is an unwanted byproduct of the design aesthetic that some owners then try to overcome using various techniques. As I mentioned, I am a regular at one such open plan restaurant in my town, website with the sound is here. When it opened, some complained of the noise and acoustic tiling was reportedly applied to the ceiling, but to me it has not changed much. That said, going there often enough for its other fine points seems to have outweighed the noise factor. By the way Chris, I was born in 1960, and haven't been to a club since college! I would be interested in any chef or owners' opinions, especially those that opened up in a space that they liked aesthetically, but had noise issues.