Diners Unite: Turn Down the Din!
Breaking bread with others is a convivial activity. We chew and chatter, drink and discuss. Food always helps conversation to flow freely. Who among us enjoys a delicious meal with family or friends without talking? And yet, we can’t talk to each other in many of today’s most popular restaurants — unless we’re willing to shout across the table.
Seriously. The roar of voices and cacophony of sound can be deafening. We’ve all been there.
Unbearably noisy restaurants are not a new problem — diners and critics have complained about it for years. Back in 1998 The San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critics started to use sound meters to measure restaurant acoustics and to bestow bell-icon noise ratings: one bell for “pleasantly quiet;” two for “can talk easily;” three for “talking normally gets difficult;” four for “can talk only in raised voices;” and finally a bomb icon — ”too noisy for normal conversation.” The Washington Post followed suit in 2008, stating that in response to reader requests, they would be “revealing raucous restaurants” by adding noise ratings to their reviews.
Yet, despite all the hue and cry, noise pollution in restaurants is getting worse, not better.
Why is this such a persistent problem? There are many reasons for restaurant roar, chief among them a series of marketing decisions by restaurant ownership tied to the bottom line. Acoustic treatments are expensive. Hip modern design uses hard materials — glass, metal, wood, concrete — that bounce sound back into the room. A soaring ceiling only adds to the din unless it is treated with sound-absorbing materials.
And, let’s be honest, restaurant noise turns tables. If we’re told that the food is great, we’ll try it, right? Then, even if our meal is to die for, we’ll eat and run if the racket is outrageous, making our table available for the next customers.
The question is: Will we come back? I won’t. I hope you won’t. But sadly, many do — returning again and again to make some of the noisiest places the most popular. Are these the girls and boys of GenX and GenY, who actually LIKE conversation-killing noise in restaurants because they are more comfortable engaging with their smart phones than talking face-to-face? I shudder to think.
It’s time to take a stand. Sure, silence in a restaurant is deadly — you need a buzz of background noise to create a sense of excitement, energy, and action. But a lively buzz that also allows for easy conversation can be achieved by intelligent design, without sacrificing the stylish ambiance. Let’s put our money where our mouth is — or more accurately, where our mouth isn’t going to be chowing down. Tweet it out: #turndownthedin.
First published February 2014