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Restaurant Noise Is So Friggin' Important


weinoo
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Pah--I HATE noisy restaurants. I don't mind the sound of chatter, silverware, etc. But I sometimes feel like the only under-40 person in America who doesn't want a soundtrack with my meal. My better half is quite hard of hearing, thanks to a stint in the field artillery, so noisy joints don't ever get a return visit from us. I abhor dining rooms where people shout at each other over the background noise. It's dinner, not a football stadium.

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It would take a lot of noise to ruin my experience, but I totally agree with an above poster's mention of live music. I love it in bars and musical venues, but I hate it in restaurants. I avoid it at all costs...I don't think I could stand an open mic night if the food was free.

As far as acoustics, I recently had a really "different" experience while dining at Marcel's in Washington DC. It's a pretty quiet, high-end restaurant, but depending on where you're sitting on one far side of the dining room there is the most impressive echo that makes conversations in one area on the other side of the room sound like they are right inside your ear. Most of the area is taken up by a water/flatware station, I'm assuming the echo effect is well-known...so you don't get in on any scandalous conversations. While I'm sure this is a rare scenario, it would be a doozy if you were on a date or had a fear of schizophrenia.

Jerry

Kansas City, Mo.

Unsaved Loved Ones

My eG Food Blog- 2011

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----As far as acoustics, I recently had a really "different" experience while dining at Marcel's in Washington DC. It's a pretty quiet, high-end restaurant, but depending on where you're sitting on one far side of the dining room there is the most impressive echo that makes conversations in one area on the other side of the room sound like they are right inside your ear. -------------

There are many different types of echoes. Some curve-shaped walls will cause the sound to follow the curvature of the geometry and travel some distance with great clarity. Some acoustic engineers call this “Creeping echo”.

dcarch

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I'm not sure why live music has to be loud, or why most musicians in restaurants and bars, no matter how small, feel they have to use amplifiers. I've been to classical music and choral concerts where 7 (or was it 9?) well trained vocalists singing a capella (w/no electronic amplification) filled a large church (w/good acoustics) with their song. Maybe it reflects a lack of confidence on the part of the musicians or singers, but certainly violins/fiddles, pianos & drums can be quite loud w/out electronic amplification.

Like so many of you, I strongly dislike loud restaurants. If possible, I e-mail a new place I'm considering trying ahead of time & ask about the noise level, although I don't always get a straight answer. I am clear about wanting to be able to talk to my dining partners w/out raising my voice.

There are a few places I won't go to (I'll do takeout instead) because of the noise level. Not all restaurants will turn down the canned muzak volume if you ask (even if you ask politely), some will, some will have their staff tell you something like: "we can't control the volume, it's set automatically" or something like that. That's when I leave if I can.

95% of the time I'm dining w/friends and being able to talk to them w/out straining or having to raise my voice is part of the pleasure of sharing a meal with them.

I've disliked overly loud noise since I was young and stopped attending rock concerts years ago when the volume started getting cranked way up. If I go to a movie theater, I wear earplugs as the theater closest to me cranks up the volume for some reason. The sound track level discourages me from seeing more movies there as well. Several years ago I started feeling like some kind of outlier because I dislike loud restaurants--although people's voices don't bother me much unless it's a child screaming or someone talking very loudly on his/her cell--it's the overamplified live music or cranked up canned muzak. I have difficulty tolerating the muzak played at ever increasing volumes in supermarkets, etc. and have asked that the muzak be turned off at my dentist's office (they do and no one seems to mind).

Nice to know I'm not a complete outlier, although a year or so ago, there was an article in the Boston Globe about restaurants/noise levels and the article's author told me that of all the e-mails regarding the article she'd received, none indicated that they wanted more noise in restaurants, most were like mine, wishing for less noise.

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Well, I take issue with that. According to restaurant design guru Adam Tihany, who was interviewd by Zagat, which I found out by scanning Eater, Tihany believes the more noise the better. To whit:

In the restaurant industry, the more noise, the better.

Maybe it's just that I'm cranky (hey, it's hot here), but I like sedate places just as much as really noisy ones, if the food is good. As a matter of fact, I like them even more these days. And if the food sucks, I don't give a darn how loud or soft the place is...I'm not going back.

You?

Agreed.

How rare is that? :raz:

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In defense of certain musicians:

Sometimes we don't get full control of how we want our sound design to go; I've played a couple of gigs where the restaurant's sound technician insisted that the piano be miked, no matter how much I protested. Since there weren't monitors around me I really had no idea how loudly the music was being amplified for all the guests. Why didn't I put down an ultimatum? (if you mic the piano i'll leave?) Well, frankly, I was grateful for the gig. Was it ideal? No. Did it pay my cellphone bill that month? You bet.

I personally don't like live music in a restaurant (though I'll usually take the gig) for multiple reasons: 1) if the music is of such high quality that it needs to be live, people should pay attention and 2) if it's not that high of a quality anyway, why bother?

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  • 1 month later...

I can not imagine what there is to like about lots of noise. For whatever reason I go to a restaurant noise never features as a positive. Music may be acceptable if it is not obtrusive but noise, racket, clatter, hubbub, halabaloo that never improved the quality of a meal and often made it worse. I have left restauarants to avoid the ear piercing braying of intoxicated, or merely uninhibitededly boistrous, patrons. If this is what is necessary to display to all and sundry that everyone is having a wonderful time it is a poor reflection on diners.Being unnecessarily noisy is inconsiderate or even offensive. In Australia I believe there are regulations about acceptable noise levels. Loud noise is also injurious to health. I don't want my enjoyment of dinner spoiled by the tumult produced by the raucous and selfish patrons around me. A few years ago I wrote a piece on this subject in www.1001dinners.blogspot.com

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My favorite place to dine for atmosphere is the Pool Room at the Four Seasons. So that gives you an idea of how I feel about noisy restaurants. Modern designers could actually take a tip from it -it is hushed, but with a pleasant burr of distant background sound (water lapping against the pool, the metal beads gently rasping against the windows, and hushed conversation) that together give you the sensation of being in an exciting public place but with complete privacy for your table, no matter how crowded it is.

I loathe the new restaurants with hard surfaces, high ceilings and people pushed up against one another. They of course force you to drink huge amounts to make it bearable, pushing bar tabs up and making the tables profitable. Whether they encourage return custom is another matter.

(I find Adam Tihany's designs are visually ugly as well as unpleasant auditorily, btw.)

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Live music in a restaurant...I sometimes go to a coffeeshop/bistro that has live music. Sound is mostly at the discretion of the performers, but boy, they often need something to beat the kitchen noise! These are performances in a restaurant, not dining with background music, so I find it trying to pick out the music over the crashing and clattering that pours through the open kitchen door!

Maybe noisy restaurants are trying to keep older customers at bay, since older people generally have a harder time distinguishing speech from background noise?

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I don't mind a little noise; I think it signals the happy, excited atmosphere that a good restaurant can conjure. But when it get's to the noise level of a rockin' bar then I can't take that. I have some hearing trouble and I get a little testy when I constantly have to ask my wife, or friends, to repeat themselves. Having said that, we were out on Saturday to a relatively noisy place, but the food was great, the atmosphere exciting and the service top notch. I'd definitely go again but I'd be prepared for the noise next time.

There are 3 kinds of people in this world, those who are good at math and those who aren't.

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I think if it is too loud or noisy that you can't barely even hear each other talk, then I think that it is not a good choice even if the food is good. I remember meeting with friends in a bar & restaurant for a reunion and the place is a bit popular in the area. The restaurant is not that loud and not that quiet as well, but the service and food is so good. I think if its too loud, it should really compensate with the food and service.

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