Are Restaurants Too Loud?

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Remember when you went to a restaurant and you didn’t come home with a raging headache and hoarse from a night out? Remember when you could talk to your dinner partners and have a meaningful conversation – and not have to shout above the music playing at inhuman sound levels? Can anyone remember those good old days?

Pounding baselines: It’s not just the music in some restaurants that beats your ear into submission. It’s the noise bouncing off the naked surfaces. Somewhere along the line, carpets, tablecloths and finished ceilings disappeared and were replaced with stone floors, wooden tabletops, gleaming chrome fixtures and open ceilings with plumbing and heating pipes on display. So there’s absolutely nothing to absorb the sound as it ricochets from one hard surface to another in booming echoes around the room.

Is it just me? What’s happening out there with this new dining trend? It used to be that I would research a menu carefully before making a reservation to eat out. Now, the menu is secondary, as my first question is always, “Do you have live entertainment?” A live band is the worst, but playlists can be piped-in at absurd volume levels too.

Up close and personal: Did you know that many restaurants play a certain type of music on purpose? First of all, research has shown that a noisy restaurant draws people in because it sounds like a fun place…and we all like fun! Second, studies have also shown that when they speed up the beat, the sound waves energize us, so we eat faster and drink more. That means they make more money on food and drink that we may not have otherwise consumed.  Plus, if we eat at turbo speed, they get to turn the tables faster with more butts in the seats. Certainly a win win for them, but not for our waistlines or our wallets.

I  can’t hear you! The basic principles of going to a restaurant is to enjoy a shared meal and have a conversation – not to sit mute while we listen to music or scream at our partners to be heard. In my view, the guest experience is ruined, when the restaurant is cluttered with room noise. Now I’m not talking about the normal buzz of conversation, the clattering of dishes or the lovely jazz trio in the corner playing soft background music. I’m talking about the musicians who crank up their amps like they’re playing a rock concert for a bunch of teeny boppers. The same goes for music blasting through speaker systems. And even if you ask the wait staff or management to turn it down, my experience is that it won’t happen.

Tweets not talk: Maybe I’m just too old-fashioned about this whole thing and people today like to speak in “tweets” mirroring their online interactions. Maybe people prefer to live more on the surface these days, without the added burden of actually being interested in connecting with another human being. And again…the less you talk, the more you eat…the more you eat, the more you drink…and so it goes around and around. Are you seeing a pattern here? But if the younger generations are becoming accustomed to communicating in this way, are we losing the art of conversation in the process? This is another whole issue for another day.

What can we do?
If we, as paying guests are dissatisfied with any of the above, we should speak up:
1.  Be vocal and tell the restaurant management that we are dissatisfied.
2. Encourage more food critics to add a new category for sound levels in their reviews.
3. Boycott the establishment and tell them why.
4. Post our complaints on restaurant review sites, to draw attention to the issues.
5. Choose a table farthest from music amps and speakers, and near soft surfaces if they have any.

Final word: What do you think people? Have I just passed my best before date or do I have a point here?

See you between the lines,

Follow me on Twitter @PatSkene

13 responses »

  1. So so true. We went to La Parisienne on Sat. Night, and finally heard what the other couple were talking about. The next night, all hell broke loose in another restaurant, replicating what your blog is all about. I intend to review these places with the truth. Thanks Pat

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  2. Right on, excellent points! Not past your best before date at all, and your suggestions make total sense. We live in Ottawa and when trying out a new place always check out the city website to see how a restaurant has scored in the ‘cleanliness’ area, and check out reviews to see what people have to say about the food. The noise category would be an excellent addition.

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    • Yes, I agree Blanche. I noticed online that some critics in the US have started adding this category. But more should do it. It’s hard to imagine that restaurants have strict rules about how loud music “must” be played. I have been told in restaurant chains like Milestones and Moxie’s for example, that they have no control over how loud music is played…is mandated by company policy. Seriously! That’s doesn’t sound very customer centric to me…more like cash-register centric!

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  3. I totally agree with you on every point! My husband has difficulty hearing conversation in a room that’s loud like that,. We often have to eat at our favorite place without being able to talk to each other, and the talking and visiting is my favorite part. And, you guessed it, it’s in one of those modern places where everything is hard surfaces, sigh… The food is awesome, so we keep going, but try to go at odd times of the day when there are less people.

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    • Yes, for people who wear hearing aids, it’s especially brutal. My husband is constantly adjusting his in an attempt to block and redirect the sound. Sometimes it’s so painful for him, he has to remove them. What’s wrong with this picture! Thanks for your comment.

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    • Good for you for asking…but in my experience, they don’t often comply. Can you imagine working in that noise all day? I think eardrums can be damaged after longer exposure at the 90 decibels mark. What about impact to staff? And yes, it’s often very cold. I wonder what that’s about? I guess we eat more when we’re cold, and we don’t want hot waiters dripping sweat into our food. 😳

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  4. Perhaps you should send this to a restaurant reviewer for a prominent newspaper. Or perhaps you should prepare more home cooked meals and entertain your guests in the solitude of your home. I totally agree with you and while we used to choose a restaurant based on their smoking policy we should now advocate for a bylaw on the noise levels permitted in places that serve food.

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  5. Totally agree with you Rumple, except for the more cooking at home thing. As it happens, I did send it to one of the offending restauatnts in my neighbourhood. No response of course.

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  6. Your point is absolutely valid and well written. My husband and I just lived the experience, sitting at a quiet outdoor cafe, having an early dinner. Then, yikes, a band appeared and set up their amps about 6 feet from us. End of quiet, end of birdsong, end of conversation, beginning of misery. I hate loud music in restaurants, and I was thrilled by your post.

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  7. I’m sorry to hear of your disappointing experience…but all too common these days. I hope you gave the restaurant feedback. But sadly, in my experience, even when I do this, they tell me their customers love the music. Who am I? Chopped liver? Thanks for your comment.

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