In the September issue, editor Michael Sanson wrote about how restaurants have gotten increasingly loud. He asked how readers handle bad acoustics and unruly customers. Here are excerpts from some responses
I am reminded of the evening that I had to politely ask a 12-top to stop singing Happy Birthday . . . after the eighth or ninth time. I guess the key is to be polite and humorous, if at all possible. Humor, if appropriate, can often defuse difficult situations. To this day, whenever any of this group comes in, I make them promise not to sing Happy Birthday.
Peoria Heights, IL
I have definitely found that nothing will piss off a customer more than asking them to please hold it down. I also have the added challenge of having karaoke in my cantina twice a week. That’s like giving everyone an anything-goes-card when they walk in. I would love to be more skillful at quieting the rowdies a little without ruining their fun so my non-karaoke guests can enjoy talking.
Picante Mexican Restaurant
I’ve always believed a good defense is better than a good offense, so we try to train our hostess staff to recognize tables that might be a little more fun (loud) than most and seat them in an area where they won’t bother anyone. If a loud group slips by and we have customer complaints, I offer a different location for the table that is upset. If they choose not to move, I would try and catch someone from the loud table and talk with them privately about being a bit quieter for the sake of others dining in the restaurant and offer them a table in a more remote location. It certainly is a tough situation and I don’t want to upset either table. We are a grill-your-own-steak restaurant, so there are convenient times for us to move a table without it being a big ordeal. When tables go into the grill, we make the switch, with the table’s permission, and it eliminates any awkwardness.
The Grill House & Silo Catering
Our building was built in the late 1890s and features all the necessary ingredients to be very loud—brick walls, hardwood floors, an open kitchen and a pressed-tin ceiling. It can get loud at times as the crowd fills in, the kitchen gets busy, the convection oven fan runs, the exhaust hood is on and you have up to 15 staff members communicating, guests talking, etc. Our challenge was the balance of respecting and showing off an older building versus creating the perfect environment for our guests. Our answer was to hang fabric art (quilts) done by local artists wherever possible. It helps to, at the very least, soften the intensity of the noise and lessens the sharpness of the din and does so without compromising the look and feel of the interior.
Landmark Cafe & Creperie
I have been the chef/owner of INA’S for 22 years and I took a stance in 1991 when I opened that if I go to the trouble of making you nourishing food, it should be consumed in a nurturing environment, which means no music and no cellphones.
I got plenty of pushback about the phones then and up until about a year ago. Now people come in, see the sign, agree, say thank you and gladly turn their ringer off. We have a phone zone by the front door if they get a vibration that they have to answer. We have 99 percent compliance, and we enforce the rule. It’s always sweet when a regular customer leans over to the offender and reminds them of the rule.
As for the complete ban on music, we are known for our fine dining breakfast environment and because so much business is being conducted at the table, music is completely inappropriate. We also have carpeting and have covered the tables with vinyl-backed foam under a tablecloth and two pieces of heavy butcher paper. All of this enables whispered conversations, if necessary.
I opened a restaurant in a narrow shotgun-style building with original tin ceiling from 110 years ago, exposed brick walls and concrete floors. We paid thousands of dollars to have the noise issue resolved. The building needs a heartbeat and some days the heartbeat is running full speed and other days it has the perfect rhythm. I will say the larger parties, particularly the large parties of women, seem to be the loudest, even with noise reduction materials.
With that said we needed another environment for the guests who wanted a quieter environment. The Strip Club 104 was born. The big difference in the building is table- cloths and exposed rafters with at least 10 feet of space above them, which helps to bounce the noise around above hearing level. I will tell you even with great acoustics old buildings will always be louder than most, but that’s what makes them great.
Executive Chef / Owner
BIN112 on Trade Street
The Strip Club 104, A Steak House
In my opinion, here’s the bottom line:
• Let go of the idea that you as an operator have full control over noise and your occasionally loud guest.
• When a complaint does happen, listen and act on it as best you can. Go back to the table and let the guest know what action you have taken.
• Buzzy and kinetic by design is a cool thing. Hitting the sweet spot for buzz is the genius of management. Stay ahead of it.
• Social behavior is in most cases beyond our control.
• Control what you can control in your sphere of influence. Guests will dictate the rest.
• Ask yourself if this is the intended atmosphere you envisioned for your restaurant. Are you building your guest counts as a result of this intended environment?
• Your objective guests will understand the loud-guest dilemma and give you a break because they like you, your staff, your atmosphere and F&B. Overreacting is always a mistake.
• Contact a sound expert and see what can be done to baffle your surfaces without compromising your atmosphere.
• Re-evaluate your music selections as ambient sound and volume can be an issue. Also use high-quality speakers strategically placed.
• If you provide live music manage the performers and let them know they work on this night for this business and that loud is not the goal unless by design.
• We will never please all of our guests, but we must continue to listen to them even though the noise they send our way may also be a bit loud and high pitched.
Owner Harbor Restaurants
Grand Haven, MI