I don’t know how many of you saw the piece in New York magazine about how restaurants have grown deafeningly louder over the years. Adam Platt, who writes restaurant reviews for the magazine, called it the single most disruptive restaurant trend of the last decade or two. As a guy who frequently eats out professionally and otherwise, I can’t help but agree with his assessment.
However, loud isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Loud means you’re busy; loud means there’s excitement in the air. With that said, if a customer has to scream across the table to be heard by a dining companion, yeah, that’s bad. But for me, what’s equally disturbing is eating in a restaurant that is so quiet you feel like you’re in church. In that case, either the restaurant is a sophisticated fine-dining establishment, or it’s a place that simply has no mojo and no customers.
Of course, for the most part, restaurants years ago were all relatively quiet. As a matter of practice, restaurant designers put carpeting down and sound-absorption material up and everywhere else. Diners spoke in hushed tones so their neighbors would not hear private conversations. But then the casualization of American restaurants kicked in and all hell broke loose.
Restaurant bars grew bigger and the drinking crowds they attracted grew louder, if not rowdier. All the muffling materials went away and were replaced by exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and hard surfaces everywhere. For reasons I can’t explain, you can carry on a conversation in some of these loud, vibrant and exciting restaurants, while others are deafening.
In the case of the latter, you’re doing a disservice to your customers if they’re getting molested by decibel levels that rival an airport. And you’re certainly doing a disservice to your customers if their meal is being disrupted by a lack of sound absorption material and unruly guests who think it’s okay to be a obnoxious. That was a problem food critic Michael Bauer recently wrote about for the San Francisco Chronicle. I’ve also written about this uncomfortable situation because it’s a tough place for a restaurant operator to be in.
As your customer, I’ve sometimes sat next to a group of diners, more often than not guys, who are drunk, obnoxious or both. On some occasions I’ve had the courage to ask them politely to quiet down, but that doesn’t usually go well. There’s nothing I like better with my meal than a side dish of in-your-face threats. But not every scenario involves jerks. Some groups just get carried away.
The question is: When do you, restaurant operator, enter the picture? On one hand you have customers who want to have a meal without a show, the show being the over-the-top theatrics of some loud customers. On the other hand, you have a group of customers who are having a great time in your restaurant, which you don’t want to dampen.
When customers get too loud and carried away, how do you handle the situation? Also, have you considered improving acoustics to soften the deafening sound in your restaurant? Email me.
Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief