Somebody note the date: I agree almost completely with The Atlantic magazine, at least as far as this article is concerned (thankee, Insty), and I urge you to read it all, if you have the time:
Restaurants are so loud because architects don’t design them to be quiet. Much of this shift in design boils down to changing conceptions of what makes a space seem upscale or luxurious, as well as evolving trends in food service. Right now, high-end surfaces connote luxury, such as the slate and wood of restaurants including The Osprey in Brooklyn or Atomix in Manhattan.
This trend is not limited to New York. According to Architectural Digest, mid-century modern and minimalism are both here to stay. That means sparse, modern decor; high, exposed ceilings; and almost no soft goods, such as curtains, upholstery, or carpets. These [minimalist] design features are a feast for the eyes, but a nightmare for the ears. No soft goods 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.
Now add over-loud “background” music to the clamor as well as noisy patrons (Americans are a loud-spoken bunch at the best of times), and it’s enough to make me order soup just so I can drink it through a straw while holding my hands over my ears.
I’ve bitched about this trend in the past, but mostly to complain about the music selection (tinny pop pablum or bass-heavy rap/R&B). But last week I had breakfast with Doc Russia in some new (and overpriced) breakfast place, and in a room which contained maybe six paying customers (out of over fifty seats), the noise was so bad (hard surfaces plus loud music) that I longed for my shooting lids.
Come to think of it, I think I’ll start carrying my ear protection with me when I go out from now on, and put them on if the place is too noisy. My lids are noise-sensitive (with the little volume adjustment thingies on the side) so they are perfectly adequate for conversation. I will, however, shout loudly at the waiter when ordering my food; what the fuck, the restaurant clearly doesn’t mind excessive noise, right?
I’m sounding a little flippant about this, but I’m not joking at all. As it is, my tinnitus makes hearing occasionally difficult, but impossibly-so in a loud environment.
Don’t get me started on “mid-century modern and minimalism; sparse, modern decor; high, exposed ceilings; stainless-steel tabletops, slate-tile floors, and exposed ductwork; and sparse and sleek [decor], with hardwood floors and colorful Danish chairs with tapered legs seated beside long, light-colored wood tables”. A less inviting scenario for a meal I can’t even begin to imagine. And please: don’t give me that crap about how hard surfaces are easier to clean and to keep clean: that’s putting the needs of the business ahead of those of its customers, which mistake should cause the business to fail quickly — but sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case here, I suspect because we’ve just become accustomed to the clamor.
The article has it right:
The result is a loud space that renders speech unintelligible. Now that it’s so commonplace, the din of a loud restaurant is unavoidable. That’s bad for your health—and worse for the staff who works there. But it also degrades the thing that eating out is meant to [engender]: a shared social experience that rejuvenates, rather than harms, its participants.
Considering that I go out to eat with friends or family where the primary motivation is social — conversation and companionship — and the food (no matter how fine) a distant second, it should come as no surprise that over time, I have become less and less likely to eat out.
In fact, strike the above thought about taking hearing protection when going out. In future, I’ll walk into the restaurant and if the clamor is overpowering, I’ll just tell the restaurateur: “Sorry, but your place is too noisy. I’m going somewhere quieter.” And please note that I’m not talking about a restaurant full of people having a good time: that’s a different situation altogether. But if the place is noisy because everyone has to scream to make themselves heard over the cacophonous ambiance, then it’s elsewhere I’ll be going.
If enough people follow my example, then maybe — just maybe — we can reverse this bullshit trend whereby function doesn’t just follow form; it throws it to the floor and suffocates it, noisily.
And by the way: fuck “mid-century” and “minimalism”.