Is it me or are restaurants getting noisier? OK, I’m getting older and less understanding of modern life. That’s a fact! But I’m not alone in my fears over the advent of maximum decibels in public places. Others are beginning to notice and comment too. Especially in restaurants.
People, especially the young, are encouraged to make noise. You only have to watch TV to notice how ‘live’ audiences are whipped into a maniacal frenzy of whooping and whistling upon hearing some celebs mediocre comment, by over-zealous, flapping floor managers on TV shows. Now, I’m constantly noticing obnoxious people in public places who seem to want to talk and laugh louder than anyone else in our look-at-us culture. It becomes competitive. This causes a domino effect because others then have to take part and shout even louder just to be heard. So, is it society that’s to blame?
Or should restaurants themselves shoulder some of the responsibility? Well, you never hear incessant babble when fine dining in their tranquil surroundings, that’s for sure. Why? Next time you’re eating out, study the different decors.
And suddenly you notice. In ‘fine dining’ you have opulence, plush carpets, luxurious drapes and simple things such as table cloths. The walls are thick and the furniture is solid and padded. It deadens noise.
Compare that to our modern restaurant decor; high, exposed ceilings, and almost no soft goods, such as drapes, upholstery, or carpets. These design features are a feast for the modern designer eye, but unfortunately a nightmare for the ears. The absent soft furnishings and tall ceilings mean nothing is absorbing sound energy, and a room full of hard surfaces serves as a big sonic mirror, reflecting sound around the room.
The result is a loud, echoing space that renders speech unintelligible. Now that it’s so commonplace, the din of a loud restaurant is unavoidable. And that’s bad for your health. But it also degrades the thing that eating out is meant to culture: a shared social experience that rejuvenates, rather than harms, its participants.
So who do we blame? Architects? The avant-garde interior designers? Fashion? Yes, to all those, but spare a thought for the restaurateurs. Think of the nitty-gritty practicalities of running a modern business. Cheap furniture that is easy to wipe down and replace. No table linen or soft furnishings to wash. Cold tile floors and composite decorations that are easy to mop and disinfect. They are functional. The interior is planned out on computer software so that every centimeter of floor space is utilised – so you, the customer, can be crammed in and profits duly maximised.
There is one more interesting theory that has been cited. It is that of the space/rental formula i.e. how much a customer is willing to pay x for how long. Yes, even that has been worked out and timed to the minute. A restaurant does not want you, the customer, to overstay your welcome. (This vulgar formula is rarely used in the world of fine dining). You and your friend, sitting there talking over your coffees, are no longer paying for your space. You should get you coat on, clear off and let other paying punters in. It’s as plain as that. Once you’ve eaten and paid, you’re of no more use.
So, loud music and noisy customers are encouraged, and suddenly it becomes very hard to hold a conversation with the person sitting directly opposite you at a table. Some restaurateurs feel a ‘livelier’ atmosphere encourages more patrons, but a side ‘benefit’ is quicker table turnover, thus maximizing the number of people who could dine in a given evening.
So there you are. Noise is here to stay in the average conventional restaurant, whether you like it or not. Pardon? Say again?