Does it seem like more and more restaurants are so loud that conversation is next to impossible? Believe it or not, this trend is frequently by design.
Studies have shown that people increase their rate of chewing by about 1/3rd when listening to faster/louder music, and that men tend to drink faster when the music is booming – I know I do; I want the get out of the damn place!
According to Grub Street,
… But ask any weary gastronaut about the single most disruptive restaurant trend over the past decade or so, and they’ll give you a succinct, one-sentence answer. It’s the noise, stupid. When I began reviewing restaurants over a decade ago, we critics whiled away our days in hushed, cocooned dining rooms, quietly noting the lightness of this or that soufflé in our little leather chapbooks. Not anymore. These days, some professional eaters carry decibel meters with them on their rounds (Robert Sietsema, formerly of The Village Voice and now with Eater, uses two of them). Noise levels in city restaurants are regularly measured at 90 decibels and sometimes higher (Lavo, in midtown, was measured at 96 decibels, louder than the whine of a suburban lawn mower), which means that for those of us whose job it is to eat for a living, hearing loss is officially an occupational hazard, like choking on a chicken bone or suffering a cataclysmic heart attack.
It is my guess that the cost of designing a restaurant with better acoustics or retrofitting one with sound-absorbing features is significant. Still, the same article also says that “Others are promising to turn down the volume because repeated exposure to the deafening decibel levels threatens to damage the hearing of their waiters and cooks”.
I’m getting older, so maybe it’s just me, but there are times when, leaving a restaurant, I feel more relaxed when I walk out the door. Ava Genes and Tasty n Alder come to mind, but there are many others. Am I the only one?
Ross Pullen says
The psychology of selling and marketing takes some quirky turns it seems. Thanks to science, one of them is validated…but not necessarily as popular as they might think. When push comes to shove, shouldn’t a restaurant be the same envoirnment that is in your home? “Thanks for coming today. We want you to enjoy yourselves,have a good meal and some beverages,visit with everyone. Mostly we are looking forward to the next time you are here.”
Where does deafening sound levels and these other sales ploys play into this?
“I’m getting older, so maybe it’s just me, but there are times when, leaving a restaurant, I feel more relaxed when I walk out the door. Ava Genes and Tasty n Alder come to mind, but there are many others. Am I the only one?”
Umm, no, it’s not just you. We have the same issue with Toro Bravo. Love the food, but the ambient noise there is so bad that holding a conversation on a 4-top is nearly impossible (2-top not much easier). Noticed the same thing at Ava Genes as well. Fine if you’re just there to enjoy the food and conversation is not important. However, when we go out to eat, we prefer great food and a noise level that is conducive to reasonable conversation. That is not an insignificant factor in our decisions on which restaurants we’ll patronize.
Sandy Matasar says
I have a traumatic head injury and cannot tolerate the loud music in restaurants. I wear ear plugs and ask to have the music turned down but still struggle. I have stopped going to some places and sit outside whenever possible. It is impossible for me to deal with the music and try to have a conversation-usually don’t talk much. I leave with terrible symptoms that can last for days. It is worse for me than smoking was years ago.
The Bonegypsy says
Agree with y’all.
There is no question that the noise level is the single most relevant issue in our choice of where we choose to go out to eat.
Sounds just ricochet around all those handsomely-designed, hard-edged interior surfaces with those cool industrial floors and exposed ceilings, ductwork and everything.
WE need a call to action!
hope that you to compile a list of places where you can really enjoy both the meal and the companionship, savoring the joy that comes with the bond of engaging conversation. We are sorry that beloved spots like Clyde Common and Toro Bravo are so intolerably loud that on a crowded night (every night) you can’t even hear the person next to you.
Clubbing to good loud dance music is a different scene, and often welcome after a decent dinner with friends. But not AT dinner.
Even in these dire avaricious times, I am still hopeful that we will all participate in a the trend for civilized social intercourse to trump Marketing 101.
In the meantime, to start the list , here are five if my fave “quieter” spots where one can enjoy a more accommodating and intimate dining experience in Portland:
• Paley’s Place
• HA & VL
By the way, applause for places like Screen Door that have really made an effort to lower the noise level for their customers…we notice!
Yeah, it’s bad when you can’t really relax until you leave the restaurant.
Oh hell yeah. My husband is suffering hearing loss, and we just cannot tolerate places that are all cement, all wood, all loud music. You have to shout at one another to be heard, and frequently you cannot understand what your waiter is saying to you.
Seriously, people. Fine dining isn’t just about the food, it’s about the entire experience; the ambience, the furnishings, the (hopefully) delightful company and sparkling conversation. It’s hard to be sparkling when you’re bellowing like a wounded buffalo, just to give your food order.
Lincoln comes to mind as a waaaaaay too noisy place.
Xico. We’ve only sat out back so far, where they have a lovely patio and great food, but the inside seems noisy and public. We have no plans to continue eating there come winter.
I would really appreciate an article on quiet cozy places to eat.
I heartily agree with all the comments written here. Not only is the music often too loud, I’m annoyed by the choice of music. Obviously not everyone likes the same kind of music, but restaurants seem to assume that their choice of music (i.e,, the staff) is going to appeal to every person that walks in the door. It’s not true.
I’ve given up going out to restaurants, with the exception of a just a couple – simply because I just don’t like the choice of music. Granted, it’s certainly not easy to find the common ground, but I believe it can be done with some thought on the part of the management. I believe this, and the noise level, is turning a lot of people off to the dining experience.
In a particularly loud restaurant, background music is wasted noise. If they turned it off, I doubt anyone would notice.
Jon N says
Here in 2022, a place on Hawthorne, mostly empty and the one employee has it Cranked!! Why…oh why… Makes me Not wanna return.