The volume in restaurants is out of control
Me: (shouting) “Let’s get out of here.”
Friend: (sitting directly in front of me, straining) “What?”
Me: (pointing to the door; shouting louder) “Out. Of. Here!”
Friend: (looking towards door, shrugging, shouting back) “Who is?”
Me: (shaking head; pointing at myself, then friend, then making a two-fingered walking gesture, then pointing again at the door; practically screaming) “Out!”
Friend: (shrugging, pulls out smart phone, responds via text message) “What are you trying to say?”
Me: (returning text message) “Can we get out of here before I go deaf?”
It’s a fictitious scenario … sort of. While I’ve yet to resort to texting a friend in order to breach the cacophony experienced in some restaurants lately, I can actually envision the day it happens.
What the hell is going on? What ever happened to the old “romantic dinner?” Or if not romantic, at least personable. You know, where you could actually engage in level-voiced conversation over some decent grub and a few glasses? More and more these days I find myself leaving restaurants with a combination of laryngitis and tinnitus.
Admittedly, the situation is worse in newer (or refurbished) eateries for a variety of reasons. The trend towards minimalist design means that traditional sound-sucking things like booths, carpeting, curtains and even tablecloths are being nixed. Open kitchens, high ceilings, sound-reflective chrome/steel/glass furniture and, increasingly, rock music (or even DJs), are helping to blur the line between fine dining and clubbing. In fact, some restos have deliberately combined elements of both types of venues. If you’re one who thinks a “gastro-pub” is a bit of a joke, you’ll no doubt be equally jazzed by these new “gastro-clubs.” If anything, they give new meaning to the term “high volume restaurant.”
Defenders of establishments that serve red meat with a side order of white noise often cite the age of the diner as the reason for racket complaints. Sure, as people age their ability to hear sounds in the upper register starts to fade. The result is that sound in general becomes unbalanced, both emphasizing the bottom end and making hearing speech harder. Background hubbub and low bass frequencies become much more apparent — and annoying — to older folk. Anyone (of any age) who’s been treated to the somnolent lulling of a car stereo’s 300-watt subwoofer at 2 am will have experienced the sanity-stripping quality of omnidirectional thudding. Apparently there’s an evolutionary reason why low-frequency noise tends to be so distressing: Primitive man’s gravest fears were often heralded by bass notes like a lion’s roar, an erupting volcano, or electronic dance music.
The other “positive” linked to negative pressure waves has to do with “energy.” Some restaurateurs prefer to up the volume to bring more “energy” to the establishment. Really? Do we really want “energy” while trying to wind down over dinner? I mean, how much “energy” do we need to eat things that are, for the most part, already dead? It’s not like we have to chase and catch a prepared meal.
In any case, it’s unlikely that the trend towards high-decibel dining will be muted anytime soon. So what’s one who doesn’t want to come home from dinner feeling like they just came back from the third row of an AC/DC concert to do?
Well, putting in a call to the restaurant would be a good start. Ask them what the level of “energy” is like, and choose accordingly. You could also check out the establishment’s website photo gallery. Look at the layout and décor to see how minimalist (loud) it looks. Try going out on any night but Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Once in the restaurant, look for seats in nooks, alcoves or booths. Avoid sitting near the bar area or kitchen if possible. Stay away from large groups and, if music is the issue, don’t be shy about telling the manager to crank it down. If all else fails, leave. Or text.