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Loud Talkers in Restaurants

  • g

Just wanna take a moment to vent here. Maureen (my wife) and I just returned from a long walk around our neighborhood (Park Slope in Brooklyn). While we were out we decided to stop in a local place for a beer and a snack. This was around 4:30 on July 4th. Place we stopped had some people at tables, maybe a little less than half full, everyone sitting, eating, drinking, chatting quietly and amiably. Nice, lazy holiday atmosphere.

About halfway through our visit, a couple came in and took the table next to ours and began a long, boring conversation in voices loud enough to be heard in the kitchen. They weren't shouting or being obviously disruptive, but they were quite distracting in a very annoying way.

Said couple was young and looked at first glance to be intelligent enough to understand that no one really wanted to hear their self-important chattering, but obviously they were not. Glances from us were misinterpreted as admiring, I'm sure, when they were meant to be disapproving.

We know that some older people develop hearing loss and tend to speak more loudly, and we know that sometimes people imbibe a little too much and can get boisterous. These are situations we accept as part of dining out. But couples who "converse" with each other in voices loud enough to distract others are fast becoming our most hated restaurant pests. Maybe we're on an extended run of bad luck, but it seems to me that my wife and I are encountering more and more such people of late.

Is there any way to deal with such boors?

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    Caitlin McGrath

    How about the classic of pointing out the disruption to an employee--server, manager, whoever's appropriate--and see if they will deal with the situation by asking the offenders not to broadcast their conversation? Of course, if the disruption is confined to nearby tables and the management is unwilling to help, you could ask to move. It's a pain for you, but you're out of earshot (or farther from the disruption, at least), and perhaps then offenders might pause to wonder or even inquire why you obviously did not want to sit near them.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      My personal experience is that, unfortunately, these people are invariable clueless to the fact that their conversations are being broadcast so loudly that people around them are being drawn into them. They would probably consider you an eavesdropper if you were to point this out to them, much like a cellphone user who seems to think strangers present should be able and willing to ignore loud conversations on personal matters in public.

      Also unfortunately, these incidents seem to be memorable, so I can clearly remember the life story of a woman I sat near more than ten years ago, someone I would never have wanted to meet. (Ask me about her history of hair colors and styles, and her family history of crime and mental illness!)

      1. re: ironmom

        How did you know that one of them did not have trouble hearing?That would explain one talking loud to be heard and the other talking loud because they could not hear themselves.

        1. re: Laura

          If you wanted to assume that everyone who speaks loudly enough to be clearly heard by those around them in a quiet restaurant is hard of hearing, I suppose you could. I don't make that assumption.

          In fact, it's not always both persons talking loudly. Often only one person's voice carries so clearly as to be understood.

          And sometimes, it's only you whose seat is positioned to hear them clearly.

          1. re: Laura
            g
            George Lynch

            I try to be cognizant of that, but given the number of times we've encountered loud talkers recently, I'd have to conclude that deafness is contagious and spreading rapidly in New York City. It seems to me to be the case more often than not of someone who loves the sound of his (and occasionally her) voice.

            In fact, now that I think of it, it's the polar opposite of someone who talks so softly you have to ask him (and occasionally her) to speak up. I've known people who did this to the extent that I just make believe I heard what they said.

          2. re: ironmom

            I agree -- people who have loud conversations just don't get it. I was on the Long Island Railroad once where a guy standing by the door was carrying on a VERY loud cell phone call -- all about his nervous breakdown and hospitalization. He was very concerned about what his employees would think -- but not about the rest of us, apparently.

        2. Since you were sitting next to them, I would have leaned over and asked very sweetly if they would mind lowering their voices a bit so you could converse with your wife. If that didn't work, then I'd ask to be moved to another table.

          1. m
            Mike Colicchio

            This is a very difficult area. I'll relate a terrible experiance I had six weeks or so again in Paris. I should have just asked to be moved but we were just finishing our main course.

            The restaurant was a one star Michelin and owned by Jacques Cagna. A Parisian named Francois and his American "wife" were seated next to us. He had been drinking prior and was obnoxiously loud from the start. He was insisting on ordering her food and was very put off that she wanted some choice in the selection.

            Once they ordered it became worse. He was sucking on her fingers and discussing their rendevous (no way they were married). His language deteriorated to a point where he rattled off three Motherf*****s within 10 seconds. I had enough and politely asked if he would please stop cursing.

            He exploded! Cursing now at the top of his lungs we now were stupid Americans. Classless, stupid ignorants dolts who should leave his city immediately before he kills us. Yes, he threatened to kill us for listening to his conversation! I said I couldn't help it since he was so loud. We were moved for dessert and when I went to the bathroom he followed me and started in again. His "wife" then came over and said that in the U.S. this behavior would not be acceptable but since he was at "home" and English was his second language, learned from movies, he should be allowed to speak however he wanted. I was in the wrong simply because I was eavesdropping.

            Unbelievable. He was very loud throughout the meal and others were noticing. I was seated within five feet of him and just couldn't ignore it.

            I know that I could have just asked to have been moved but I couldn't believe that someone would behave this way in a restaurant. I had to say something.

            Oh well. I now have an even greater distaste for Frenchmen. Love the city but you can keep the people who would be speaking German if not for us stupid Americans. Can someone top this?

            6 Replies
            1. re: Mike Colicchio
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              George Lynch

              It sure sounds like you somehow got into "The Twilight Zone" of dining: in a foreign country, in a restaurant where you were not known, being attacked by an obnoxious "citizen". There doesn't seem to be any right answer for what you should've done.

              I do think, though, that you going aggressively to the restaurant manager and insisting that this guy be tossed out on his ass might have been your best bet.

              But maybe not. Sounds like you might have a skit that Sid Caesar would've loved...

              1. re: Mike Colicchio

                'Love the city but you can keep the people who would be speaking German if not for us stupid Americans'.

                Mike, this is priceless.

                1. re: Deborah-LA

                  And it would have been the perfect retort to said Frenchman. :-)

                2. re: Mike Colicchio

                  I would have complained loudly to the restaurant manager and, if necessary, threatened to call the police and denounce the man for his homicidal threats; nobody wants the Préfecture in their restaurant.

                  As for your comment about Frenchmen who would be speaking German were it not for the stupid Americans, thank you for that blatant troll; I hope you felt better for writing it.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Agreed - and does nothing to make us look any less like stupid, pompous Americans.

                  2. re: Mike Colicchio

                    I think you should have keeeled him in zee bathroom by putting his head in le bidet.

                  3. my girlfriends uncle, a very polite but straight to the point guy dealt with this once on a metro north train with a woman speaking loudly on a celliphone at 8am. he turned to her and asked her if it would bother her if he began reading his wall street journal aloud to himself. she quieted down. only works if you have a paper or book w/you i guess.

                    g

                    1. George,

                      I had a similar experience at Casa, a small Brazilian place in the West Village. We were across the narrow space from a group of eight who were ridiculously loud. Both our waiter ("But they are one of my tables, too...") and the manager ("I know they are loud but I can't ask them to quiet down") refused to do anything despite complaints from more than one table.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Dave Feldman

                        At that point I probably would have said something (quite loudly so that others could hear it) like, "Either they go, or we go." With enough oomph, you may get other groups to follow you out.