A friend of mine, a Chicago restaurateur, recently explained to me how he had incorporated a great deal of sound-absorption material into his new restaurant. Good, I thought, because I hate screaming across a table to be heard by a dinner companion. But when I had dinner in the restaurant a short time later, I couldn't believe that he had selected a continuous techno-beat soundtrack that literally pummeled diners. I could hear what my dinner companion was saying, but after an hour I wanted to shoot myself. “Every time I go there I leave with a headache,” said another friend, explaining why she cut bait on the place.
The funny thing is, I love loud, boisterous restaurants. The energy they offer is exciting. But there is a point where it just gets plain stupid. The bottom line is that the sound a restaurant emits is every bit as much a part of the dining experience as the food and decor. Who hasn't been to a Mexican restaurant where there was a roving mariachi band that either added or subtracted from the dining experience?
Loud music is not the only culprit. The open kitchen concept is one of the greatest innovations in the last 20 years. However, I've been to some stylish restaurants where the noise coming from the kitchen (pots and pans banging, the cooks yelling) is so overwhelming, it interferes with the dining experience.
I've also been to sports/bar restaurants where I left feeling like I had just been mugged in an alley. The sensory overload of 4,000 TVs blaring is more than I can tolerate. I'm sure a lot of sports bar customers will argue the point.
Nevertheless, the stuff above is what restaurateurs have consciously or subconsciously designed into their concepts. But then there are the customers. What jerks we can be. Particularly that table of four guys in suits who have been drinking scotch or martinis all night and are as loud and obnoxious as can be. Most customers are too afraid to say anything to them because there surely will be a fight that follows.
And if those guys are bad, then what about a screaming baby at the next table? His or her parents are either immune to the crying or don't care enough to get the kid out of the dining room until he or she settles down.
A restaurant in North Carolina — Old Salty — recently posted a sign that read: Screaming Children Will Not Be Tolerated! It caused a stir from some who accused the restaurant of discriminating against children, particularly special needs children. Should anyone bring a kid to a restaurant who is going to be so disruptive that they'll ruin the meal of those around them?
What's your thought on the issue? And I'm not just taking about loud children. How have you maintained control of your environment? Have you had to deal with complaints from an aggressive sound system, drunk customers, a loud kitchen staff? Where do you draw the line? Email me.